Up in flames: Flaring is Burning Money & Opportunities
By Bill Midcap
Imagine 130 million cubic feet of gas wasted, up in flames, on public lands that could and should be generating revenue for rural America. This is enough gas to meet the needs of a city the size of Los Angeles. I know that flaring is not limited to federal lands. Currently Colorado is in the middle of the Niobrara oil development, and other states in our region may have smaller operations, but the impact is the same and flaring is highly visible.
We all are asking many questions about the use of our scarce water resources in this development. Fracking is certainly the topic of the day but as you fly over parts of the west you can pick out where the oil fields are located, as it looks like someone’s birthday cake. Where flaring is taking place on public lands, rural citizens are losing revenue that could help fund community needs from schools to health care.
Much of what we call federal land is also called our back yard out here in the Intermountain West. I, like many folks in the west, really don’t understand the wasteful practice of flaring. It seems we talk out of both sides of our mouths when we say we are on a road to energy independence yet we see the waste happening right here in our back yards.
A University of Colorado study has shown levels of methane emissions from oil and gas wells at three times previous estimates. Methane is 20 times more hazardous to our atmosphere than carbon dioxide. We are wasting time, energy, and money by not addressing this issue.
With the exception of Wyoming, state budgets have been and will continue to be problematic. The lost revenue from federal oil and gas royalties that goes to the states would benefit everyone. Flaring is effectively burning money that is lost income, lost economic activity, lost energy.
The State of Colorado, which has passed new regulations that are stricter than most states in the west, has lost over $8 million a year since 2009 and has flared or vented enough gas that could have provided the energy needs for several cities in the state.
The fifth largest state by land mass is New Mexico: it has lost nearly $43 million in revenue during the same time period. That represents enough gas to meet the needs of approximately half the homes in New Mexico.
The State of Utah, where air quality issues loom large on the public consciousness, has lost over $16 million since 2009: enough gas to serve two cities the size of Salt Lake City.
In Wyoming the state has lost over $17.5 million in the last five years: enough gas to serve more than three times the number homes in the state.
The federal government should be a model for energy efficiency as we all try to conserve our way to energy independence. Let’s stop the wasteful practice of flaring and instead practice what we preach.