Oil Site Leaked Gases Uncontrollably for Months, Group Says
(Bloomberg) - According to an environmental group, an oil well in the Permian Basin owned by a bankrupt shale producer released noxious gases into the atmosphere for 10 months despite being investigated by Texan regulators.
Infrared video footage collected from multiple visits from November 2019 through September shows "continuously intense and significant" emissions from faulty valves and tank hatches at MDC Energy LLC's Pick Pocket facility in west Texas, Earthworks said in a letter Thursday to two state supervisory authorities. The group called on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Texas Railroad Commission to revoke the permits for MDC.
"TCEQ and RRC need to adequately address these intense emissions, including but not limited to volatile organic compounds (VOC), methane and hydrogen sulfide," wrote Sharon Wilson, Earthworks thermographer, in the letter.
This is the latest example of increasing environmental concerns in the Permian Basin, where the levels of methane emissions from the oil and gas industry are largely unknown. These concerns are compounded by a collapse in crude oil prices, which has pushed many producers into bankruptcy and raised concerns that they will be unable to pay to maintain well production or properly plug abandoned wells. Methane emissions are particularly closely examined because it is a greenhouse gas that is far more effective than carbon dioxide.
TCEQ said in a statement that it would look into the issues raised in the letter. An enforcement process for complaints about MDC's business "is currently under development and will include the assessment of an administrative penalty and corrective action if necessary," the agency said. The RRC, whose website states that the MDC website is linked to a producing well, had no immediate comment.
Earthworks first filed a complaint with TCEQ in December, and the MDC notified regulators in April that a broken valve and tank hatch should be repaired and replaced. This emerges from an incident report obtained through a request from Earthworks for public records. MDC also hired a third party to measure site-wide emissions that were higher than the agency-approved quantities and without a special permit. In May, TCEQ sent the company a notice that it would issue a notice of enforcement actions. The agency also listed other violations that MDC had to correct by August 10.
When Wilson revisited the site in September, she continued to see emissions, according to her letter.
Texas has taken a friendly stance towards the shale industry. More recently, however, some of the industry's biggest investors and even some oil producers have called for stricter regulations. Another important environmental problem is the widespread practice of the flare industry in which producers burn excess natural gas. Recent surveys by the Environmental Defense Fund found that torches are often not lit or not working properly in the Permian, which means methane is released directly into the air.
MDC Energy's parent company, owned by real estate developer Mark Siffin, filed for bankruptcy last October and funded more than $ 400 million in debt. The company is now seeking court approval to initiate bankruptcy proceedings and continues to seek offers to finance the Chapter 11 exit. Siffin did not immediately respond to an email asking for comment.
(Updates with additional background in the sixth paragraph)
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