When new oil wells are drilled, producers often find at least a small amount of natural gas contained in the reservoir being tapped. As this substance is released from the well, it must often be burned off through a process known as "flaring" due to the lack of appropriate transportation infrastructure.
Ever since NASA released nighttime photographs showing the amount of light let off by extensive flaring in North Dakota's Bakken shale, the public has become increasingly aware of and concerned about the issue.
At a recent public forum on U.S. natural gas policy, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden touted the success of one state that seldom garners praise from national Democrats—Texas. Specifically, the senator from Oregon pointed to the Lone Star State's low level of flaring.
Wyden framed the issue as one of efficiency, saying it is necessary to reduce flaring and leakage to the minimum possible levels in order to maximize the benefits of expanding natural gas production.
"I want to hear what the industry can do to get other states' levels of flaring down to Texas's levels," Wyden said.
The Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the state's oil and gas industry, allows companies to flare gas while drilling a well and for up to 10 days after completion to allow drill stem testing to be conducted. Long-term flaring needs, which may be caused by equipment maintenance, require approval on a case-by-case basis.
During 2012, the commission issued almost 2,000 flaring permits. However, with more than 144,000 active oil and gas wells in the state, its success in limiting the instance of flaring speaks for itself.