Natural gas flaring is basically another excuse for the oil and gas industry to avoid proper regulation and do whatever they want in order to make more money. Releasing dangerous toxins into the atmosphere via giant flames in the sky, flaring burns unwanted sour gas that is not economical for the the gas industry to capture. Unfortunately, it also endangers both human health and the health of the environment, causing headaches, and adding heaping greenhouse gas emissions to the sky, pushing the climate change train onward down the tracks.
Image © U.S. Army Core of Engineers Chicago District
Normally, pointing out one person would be wrong because it’s not one person making the decisions, but flaring should have stopped in 2013 and as a direct result of Gina McCarthy’s leadership, it didn’t. Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), then head of the Air Divison, and a friend to the gas industry, McCarthy delayed the regulations on flaring until 2015.
I’m writing this article because I feel compelled to, after seeing one of these flares in action the other night at 3:40 a.m. It was raining and the camera was wet, but when I walked outside the sky was on fire. My friend and I hopped in the car and took off down the road to witness what was turning the clouds into marshmallows. Wide-eyed, like a brontosaurus watching the comet that scorched the dinosaurs, I saw a giant flame shooting out of a pipe in the ground. It sounded like a blowtorch being blasted through the speakers at an EDM concert.
Looking up “flaring,” I found many of the toxins emitted from this process are known carcinogens. According to Earthworks, flaring emits:
“…benzene, formaldehyde, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs, including naphthalene), acetaldehyde, acrolein, propylene, toluene, xylenes, ethyl benzene and hexane.”
“Researchers in Canada have measured more than 60 air pollutants downwind of natural gas flares.”
The worst part of all this is that flaring doesn’t need to happen. Through Reduced Emissions Completions and other practices, flaring can be avoided entirely. Sadly, any reduction in profit for these companies, even temporary, is a reason to avoid the implementation of proper safety measures.
Despite being head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy is too busy pleasing the oil and gas industry to care about protecting the environment. At any time, she could implement flaring regulations, which would reduce emissions and safeguard the health of shalefield residents. In fact, the EPA’s new carbon rules have been attacked by numerous environmentalist groups and others for the “fundamental flaw” of catering toward the natural gas industry.
It’s becoming more and more clear that environmental enforcement agencies are placing the interests of the fossil fuel industry above the health of citizens. If we want to see a truly impactful decrease in both fossil fuel emissions and negative health effects from fossil fuel extraction, we need to see strict limits on flaring and other forms of natural gas activity that are increasing global climate change and damaging the lives of the citizens these governmental organizations are supposed to protect.
Lead Image via Shuttershock