The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

The West Texas Oil Boom:
Profits and Pollution

Jul 22, 2019

Viewed from outer space, the thousands of oil wells blazing off excess natural gas illuminates West Texas as brilliantly as Dallas or Houston. The gas being burned is a byproduct of a frenzy of oil drilling in the Permian Basin. Oil production in the Permian Basin has more than tripled in less than eight years. Today, it produces more oil than anywhere in the world, even more than the Ghawar Field in Saudi Arabia.

Every day, 740 million cubic feet of gas is either flared or vented into the atmosphere from these oil wells. That is the equivalent of the exhaust from five million cars driving 24 hours a day. As companies drill for oil, they also pump out large volumes of natural gas. Rather than ship the gas off via pipelines, companies either burn it up at the well head, or vent it. They do this because the infrastructure to capture the gas, and ship it, doesn’t exist, or else simply because it saves them money.

The chemicals from either venting or flaring are extremely harmful to human health. One recent report said that more than 2.5 million Texans live and work within a half-mile radius of an oil and gas facility. It also says there are more than 900 schools and 75 medical facilities close by. All those people are at much greater risk for getting asthma, COPD and cancer, not to speak of getting covered by all the soot and smoke that are everywhere.

The flaring and venting also contribute to global warming. One of the gases produced by flaring is carbon dioxide, which itself is a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. As for the vented, unburned gas, it is made up of many more harmful chemicals such as methane, toluene and benzene. Methane itself is 70 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in trapping the heat from the sun in the atmosphere over a period of 20 years.

Of course, each time companies decide to flare or vent the gas, they have to apply to the government for permission. But over the last seven years, the Texas Railroad Commission has received more than 27,000 requests for permits and has not denied one of them.

The Permian Basin is a true gold mine for companies in the oil and gas industries. But no matter how much profits these companies make, it is never enough. They have proven that in their competition to increase their profits, they are more than ready to inflict terrible permanent damage to the environment, as well as destroy the lives of untold numbers of people.

And all government does is sit back and rubber stamp it.