Oil field slowdown trickles through Crossroads economy

A flare-up can be seen at an oil processing plant outside of Cuero in 2015.

Researchers are using satellites to see how much flaring is occurring in the Eagle Ford Shale region rather than solely relying on data reported by industry to the state.

The researchers’ next step is to see how many pre-term births and babies with low birth weights were reported where the most flaring occurred from 2012 to 2016 compared to the rest of Texas.

Using a satellite as well as data from Drillinginfo Inc. and the Texas Railroad Commission, researchers from the University of Southern California and San Francisco State University identified 43,887 distinct oil and gas flares in the Eagle Ford Shale region during that five-year period.

This information was part of a study recently published by the American Chemical Society.

“The takeaway is there is a lot of flaring going on, even in the downturn,” said Meredith Franklin, the lead author of the study.

She said that she and three co-authors estimated that from 2012-2016, 159 billion cubic feet of gas was flared in the Eagle Ford Shale region.

“And that’s enough natural gas to power roughly 2.5 million homes for a year,” she said.

Franklin said she expects to get a picture of what the health effects are of the flaring there within six months.

Previous research conducted on the Barnett Shale area from 2010 to 2012 showed that women who lived near permitted wells had an increased chance of having a pre-term birth.

A pre-term birth is defined as a live birth before 37 completed weeks gestation, according to the March of Dimes.

“There’s a lot of evidence or several studies published associating air pollution with pre-term birth and other outcomes like low birth weight,” Franklin said, “so we’re looking at those two specific outcomes because we assume that there’s a lot of air pollution coming out of the flaring as well as stressors that could lead to low birth weight and pre-term birth, in particular noise.”

The Railroad Commission allows an operator to flare gas while drilling a well and for up to 10 days after a well’s completion for the operator to conduct well potential testing.

In existing production areas, the Railroad Commission said flaring may be necessary because existing pipelines may have no more capacity. Railroad Commission staff issue flare permits for 45 days at a time, for a maximum limit of 180 days.

Operators are required to report to the Railroad Commission volumes of gas flared on their monthly production report form.

Those reports show that of the total amount of gas reported to the Railroad Commission, 1.35 percent is flared.

Jessica Priest reports on the environment and Calhoun County for the Victoria Advocate. She may be reached at jpriest@vicad.com or 361-580-6521.

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Environment/Investigations Reporter

Jessica Priest has done a little bit of everything since moving to Victoria in 2012. She was a regular fixture in the Crossroads’ historic courthouses, but now slathers on the sunscreen to report on the environment.

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