CBS7 INVESTIGATES: Uncovering invisible gas in the Permian Basin

MIDLAND COUNTY, TX (KOSA) -- Sharon Wilson worked in the oil and gas industry for 12 years.

“I worked in an office so I didn’t know about all of the environmental problems," Wilson said.

It wasn't until she bought acreage in Wise County near a site where hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling was being experimented with that she changed her mind about the industry.

“I got an early, ring-side seat to that," She explained. "My air turned brown and my water turned black. Eventually I couldn’t stay on my land anymore.”

Now Wilson works for Earthworks, a non-profit organization that fights to take care of the environment.

Her life mission is to expose gas leaks in the fields that she believes are hurting our environment and harming people's health - that's why Wilson is one of the only people outside of the oil and gas industry or state environmental groups that is certified to read infrared video.

She has traveled to 15 states and overseas to the UK, all to uncover what's invisible to the naked eye: Methane leaks.

“Methane is a powerful climate super-pollutant. It's 86 times more potent than CO 2 at warming our planet," Wilson said.

She claims of all of the places she's traveled to investigate leaks from tanks and flares, the Permian Basin and South Texas cases are by far the worst.

"In the beginning I wanted to help people who were in the same spot I was in. Now, it's become bigger than just one community or one family. It's the whole globe, it's a global problem now," Wilson said.

Although, the Permian Basin Petroleum Association Vice President Stephen Robertson said community/employee health and the environment are of top priority for the industry.

"We are very conscious about operating where we live, especially out here in the Permian Basin. So, people want to leave the environment the same, if not better, as the way they found it," Robertson said.

Robertson added that there's always room for improvement, but overall, methane release numbers are getting better.

"Information has come out from the EPA and the Energy Information Administration recently, which shows from 2011 to 2017 greenhouse gas emissions have actually gone down in the United States - and that's with an increase in production," Robertson said. "Methane in particular has gone down 24 percent in emissions in that time, while crude oil production has gone up 65 percent and natural gas production has gone up 19 percent."

Ultimately, Wilson's goal is to have stricter federal regulations and penalties for the industry.

Each time she and her partner, Hilary Lewis, go out to a specific site in Texas, they document the time, place and findings on an iPad.

Wilson said oil and gas companies are allowed to release gases when pressure builds up in equipment - but if it continues for multiple days, they send the video and detailed information to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Although, after filing about 100 complaints, Wilson said their success rate of getting action taken against Texas companies is only about 5 percent.