The Invisible Pollutant: Tracking How Much Methane West Texas Gas Wells Release

Reporters used infrared technology to document the amount of methane leaking from gas wells in the Permian Basin.

By Rhonda Fanning & Antonio CuetoDecember 13, 2019 7:30 am

Natural gas production has become a powerful force in the Texas economy, thanks to its abundance in the Permian Basin. Natural gas is seen as a cleaner, and plentiful alternative to oil, but its production comes with a downside – releases of methane that have largely gone undocumented.

Methane is an invisible, odorless and powerful greenhouse gas that isthe main component of natural gas. But because It’s hard to prove how much of it is released into the atmosphere without the proper technology, lobbyists have successfully pushed for looser regulation of natural gas production.

With specialized infrared cameras, two New York Times reporters flew over the Permian Basin to document how much methane is actually leaking from natural gas wells.

Hiroko Tabuchi is a climate reporter for The New York Times who, along with her reporting partner, broke the story.

“From the air we were measuring the methane and figuring out which sites were emitting large amounts of methane,” Tabuchi says. “During a course of two short flights, we found six sites emitting methane at levels that scientists would likely call “super emitters,” which means they’re spewing a lot more methane than you would expect from oil and gas.”

What you’ll hear in this segment:

– What Tabuchi and her partner saw with the infrared cameras at natural gas production facilities

– How production companies reacted when Tabuchi reached out to them with her findings

– How the EPA has cut back regulation of natural gas production


Written by Antonio Cueto.