Texas’s natural gas industry had almost a year to prepare for last weekend’s cold blast and avoid another loss of production. But yet again, instruments froze, output plunged and companies spewed a miasma of pollutants into the atmosphere in a bid to keep operations stable.
Though Saturday’s cold front wasn’t as severe as the February storm that killed hundreds and knocked out power to much of the state, nearly 1 million cubic feet of gas was burned or wasted due to weather-related shutdowns, according to filings with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. At the same time, production plunged to the lowest level since the last freeze, BloombergNEF data shows.
That has environmental implications. Natural gas is composed mostly of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. And the roughly dozen gas facilities that reported problems with the cold also emitted a combined 85 tons of sulfur dioxide and 11 tons of carbon monoxide, among other pollutants, according to a Bloomberg review of environmental filings.
“We know this is pollution that can hurt people’s health and, overwhelmingly, this is avoidable,” said Luke Metzger, executive director of the nonprofit Environment Texas. “These facilities could be investing in better insulation and other kinds of things that would prevent equipment from freezing,” he said. “It’s easier to pay a fine.”