Flaring is a process used primarily in the production of crude oil in which excess natural gas produced with the oil is burned off at the well head, rather than released into the atmosphere.
Railroad Commission of Texas Jurisdiction
As the state’s primary regulator of energy resource production, the Railroad Commission of Texas has jurisdiction over flaring operations with respect to prevention of waste of natural resources.
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Jurisdiction
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has jurisdiction over air quality issues related to flaring. The TCEQ handles all complaints regarding air quality and air pollution. For more information on TCEQ’s role, please visit their website at https://www.tceq.texas.gov/assistance/industry/oil-and-gas/oilgas.html.
The Commission’s Statewide Rule 32 (16 Texas Administrative Code §3.32) states that all gas from any oil well, gas well, gas gathering system, gas plant or other gas handling equipment shall be utilized for purposes and uses authorized by law. Rule 32 allows an operator to flare gas while drilling a well and for up to 10 days after a well’s completion to conduct well potential testing. Rule 32 also allows an operator to request an exception to flare gas in certain circumstances. The majority of exceptions authorizing flaring received by the Commission are for flaring cashinghead gas from oil wells. Exceptions to flare from gas wells are not typically issued as natural gas is the main product of a gas well.
Flaring of casinghead gas for extended periods of time may be necessary if the well is drilled in areas new to exploration. In new areas of exploration, pipeline connections are not typically constructed until after a well is completed and a determination is made about the well's productive capability. Other reasons for flaring include: gas plant shutdowns; repairing a compressor or gas line or well; or other maintenance. In existing production areas, flaring also may be necessary because existing pipelines may have reached capacity. Commission staff issue flare exceptions administratively for 45 days at a time, for a maximum limit of 180 days. Extensions beyond 180 days must be granted through a Commission Final Order.
See specifics on Statewide Rule 32 at the following link under §3.32 (Gas Well Gas and Casinghead Gas Shall Be Utilized for Legal Purposes):
If operators want to pursue an additional 45 days past the initial 45-day flare permit time period, they must provide documentation that progress has been made toward establishing the necessary infrastructure to produce gas rather than flare it.
The most common reason for granting an extension to an initial flaring permit is the operator is waiting for pipeline construction scheduled to be completed by a specified date. Other reasons for granting an extension include operators needing additional time for well cleanup and pending negotiations with landowners.
The majority of flaring permit requests that the Commission receives are for flaring cashinghead gas from oil wells. The Commission does not issue long-term permits for flaring from natural gas wells as natural gas is the main product of a gas well. Both oil and gas wells are allowed under Commission rules to flare during the drilling phase and for up to 10 days after a well’s completion for well potential testing. Rare exceptions for long-term flaring may be made in cases where the well or compressor needs repair.
Operators are required to report to the Commission volumes of gas flared on their Monthly Production Report (Form PR). The Form PR must include actual, metered volumes of both gas well gas and casinghead gas reported by operators at the lease level.
Statewide Rule 32 authorizes the flaring of gas while drilling a well and for up to 10 days after a well’s completion for operators to conduct well potential testing. Outside of that time period, the Commission requires operators to obtain an exception to Statewide Rule 32 authorizing flaring for specific situations and circumstances. Our trained staff works closely with operators to ensure compliance with Commission rules. RRC District Offices have inspectors available to witness operations, conduct inspections, provide information about permitting requirements, and ensure compliance with permits issued by the Commission.
Total venting and flaring exceptions issued statewide by the Railroad Commission of Texas:
To put these numbers in context, as of August 31, 2019 Texas had 264,877 producing oil and gas wells, so venting and flaring involves just a small fraction of the state’s oil wells.