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Report: RRC, TCEQ not keeping up with poison gas emissions in West Texas

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Published: Jan. 31, 2022 at 9:47 PM CST
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ODESSA, Texas (KOSA) - In a scathing report released late last week, the environmental organization Earthworks documented thousands of cases of failed hydrogen sulfide reporting by operators of oil and gas sites.

It was a discovery made almost by accident.

“When we went to check the site, we realized they were missing their H9, which is the form they need to fill out to register they’re producing sour gas with the railroad commission,” said co-author Jack McDonald.

The Railroad Commission of Texas divides the state into districts. Most of the Permian Basin falls into District 8.

McDonald and co-author Sharon Wilson began digging and found this wasn’t a one-off event.

“Of the 19,701 well samples of District 8, Just 9,695 had the required forms on file at the RRC,” the report said. “Nearly 51% of wells were missing H9 forms.”

The report also found that among operators who do file H9′s, the numbers are often underreported.

If true, that means Texas regulators don’t know how much hydrogen sulfide operators in the Permian Basin are putting into the air.

“It’s a deadly gas,” Wilson said. “So, it’s super important these facilities be permitted and regulated as a sour gas well.”

Without being forced to use proper materials, hydrogen sulfide’s corrosive properties could cause older, plugged wells to fail.

The more immediate danger is to people.

“OSHA says you can’t be exposed to 20 ppm for more than 30 minutes as a worker, and some of these wells are producing hydrogen sulfide in concentrations of well over 100,000 ppm,” McDonald said.

The Earthworks report leans heavily into this, noting the RRC considers it a sour gas well once concentrations reach 100 ppm. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has a much lower threshold at 24 ppm. Both are well below the 4 ppm recommended by the Society of Petroleum Engineers.

According to Earthworks, part of the solution is conformity. Move the RRC number down to match the TCEQ, make all operators file H9 forms, and even have a third party monitor compliance.

“The general picture of enforcement in Texas feels like the Railroad Commission and the TCEQ are more concerned with getting operators permits,” McDonald said. “So that they can go out and start drilling than they are with actually enforcing their regulation.”

CBS7 reached out to both the TCEQ and the RRC for comment about the reports’ findings. Both offices said they had not yet had the chance to read the report but would look into it.

If you would like to read the report, you can find a link here.

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