Researchers at two California universities are studying the fiery flares that pock-mark drilling sites in the Eagle Ford Shale of South Texas.
Researchers from the University of Southern California and San Francisco State University are using satellites to see how much flaring occurs in the region, in addition to data provided by the oil and gas industry. The researchers have counted 43,887 distinct oil and gas flares in the region from 2012 to 2016, the Victoria Advocate reported.
“The takeaway is there is a lot of flaring going on, even in the downturn,” said Meredith Franklin, the study’s lead author and an associate professor of clinical preventive medicine at the University of Southern California.
The researchers estimate that over the five-year period, 159 billion cubic feet of gas was flared in the Eagle Ford Shale area.
“And that’s enough natural gas to power roughly 2.5 million homes for a year,” Franklin said.
Now, the researchers want to count pre-term births and babies with low birth weights in the region near the flaring, compared to the rest of the state.
In the Barnett Shale area of North Texas, women who lived near permitted wells showed a heightened likelihood of having a pre-term birth, according to a study from 2010 to 2012.
The Texas Railroad Commission allows operators to flare gas while drilling a well, as well as up to 10 days after the completion of a well to conduct testing. Flaring may be necessary in certain production areas because existing pipelines might not have any additional capacity, according to the commission.
“There’s a lot of evidence or several studies published associating air pollution with pre-term birth and other outcomes like low birth weight,” Franklin said.