Oklahoma’s flaring activity goes hand in hand with declining rig counts

So many wells are being flared in the Permian Basin of West Texas and eastern New Mexico, it might seem like street lights for drivers as they cross the country. But not in Oklahoma.

While the nation saw record gas flaring in 2019,  that was far from the case in Oklahoma. In the past few years, the number of flaring permits for wells in the state plunged from 90 in 2017 to 73 last year, according to figures from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.

At least 88 wells were flared in 2018.

“We just don’t have that many new wells,” said Matt Skinner, a spokesman for the state regulators. “Oklahoma’s never been a big issue.”

In other words, the slowdown in drilling in Oklahoma means fewer permits to flare the excessive natural gas. As it stands, the last Baker Hughes rig count showed 50 active drilling rigs in the state. A year ago, there were 119 rigs active in Oklahoma.

Another explanation is the availability of pipelines in Oklahoma.

“It’s who we are. We have an ease of getting gas into the pipeline. Remember, Oklahoma is the pipeline capital of the world,” continued Skinner.

In November, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported the volume of U.S. natural gas vented and flared reached its highest-ever average annual level of 1.28 Bcf/day in 2018, rising 1.25% from the levels of 2017.

The flaring activity in Texas also led Tulsa-based pipeline operator Williams to sue the Texas Railroad Commission late last year, claiming Texas granted flaring permits too easily instead of requiring oil producers to move it to market.

The commissioners ruled against Williams, stating that an oil producer could burn off the unwanted natural gas rather than paying to connect to the Williams gathering system.

In one case, the regulators granted an oil company a two-year exemption of flaring 130 wells in the Eagle Ford basin when the operator claimed it would be forced to shut down the wells if forced to flare them.

The Williams lawsuit was filed in Travis County District Court in Austin, Texas.