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Climate Adaptation

When the Flames Go Out, the Permian’s Methane Problem Worsens

  • New data show 1 in 10 flares were unlit or malfunctioning: EDF
  • Data is based on EDF survey of over 300 sites in the Permian
An infrared photograph shows emissions from an unlit gas flare.
An infrared photograph shows emissions from an unlit gas flare.Source: Environmental Defense Fund

The orange flames that dot the Permian Basin have sparked criticism from investment bankers and shale pioneers who say the energy industry is wasting a valuable resource by burning off natural gas. Yet the flares are proving a bigger contributor to climate change if they are unlit.

The Environmental Defense Fund surveyed more than 300 sites in the Permian and found that roughly 1 in 10 flares was unlit or malfunctioning. That means more gas is being released straight into the atmosphere, contributing a lot more to the basin’s methane emissions than previously thought.