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Natural Gas Flaring Underestimated In Texas, Abbott Tells DAs Not To Decriminalize Marijuana, And US Expands ‘Remain In Mexico’ To Dangerous Part Of Border

These are some of the stories Houston Public Media is covering.

Friday, July 19, 2019

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Natural gas flared
Dave Fehling/Houston Public Media
Natural gas flared from oil field in La Salle County.

Natural Gas Flaring Underestimated In Texas

A new study reveals more evidence that oil and gas companies are significantly under-reporting how much natural gas they burn off into the air in Texas.

"Flaring" has hit record highs in Texas as companies produce more natural gas than they have the capacity to handle.

In a study published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, researchers at Texas A&M University found that flaring volumes captured by federal government satellites were about double what companies reported to Texas regulators between 2012 and 2015. The satellite data came from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The state data used in the study also included rates of "venting," where companies release gas straight into the air instead of burning it off, so it's possible the difference between reported and actual flaring rates is even larger.

Katherine Willyard, the lead author on the Texas A&M study, said state rules overlook some parts of the oil and gas process where flaring occurs, which could explain some of the discrepancies.

The Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the state's oil and gas industry, said in a statement that its rules are meant to "ensure safe, responsible production of our state's natural resources."

Marijuana plant.

Abbott Tells DAs Hemp Law Doesn’t Decriminalize Marijuana

Weeks after Texas prosecutors began dropping hundreds of marijuana cases and stopped actively pursuing criminal charges because of complications that arose from legalizing hemp, the state's leaders have stepped into the fray.

Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, all Republicans, sent a letter Thursday to Texas district and county attorneys, emphasizing that a new hemp law does not decriminalize marijuana. They wrote that the prosecutors who have stepped back from marijuana charges after stating they cannot legally distinguish between legal hemp and marijuana without further testing — almost all of those in the state's most 10 populous counties — misunderstand the new law.

"Failing to enforce marijuana laws cannot be blamed on legislation that did not decriminalize marijuana in Texas," stated the letter.

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, who said earlier this month her office will not prosecute low-level marijuana cases without a lab report, responded to the letter and said that it is up to the courts to interpret this law.

Rebecca Blackwell/AP
CBP agents survey cars entering the U.S. in Matamoros (Mexico) on June 28, 2019.

US Expands ‘Remain In Mexico' To Dangerous Part Of Border

The U.S. government on Friday expanded its policy requiring asylum seekers to wait outside the country to one of Mexico's most dangerous cities, where thousands of people are already camped, some for several months.

The Department of Homeland Security said Friday that it would implement its Migrant Protection Protocols in Brownsville, Texas, across the border from Matamoros, Mexico. DHS says it anticipates the first asylum seekers will be sent back to Mexico starting Friday.

The U.S. is trying to curtail the large flow of Central American migrants passing through Mexico to seek asylum under American law.

Matamoros is at the eastern edge of the U.S.-Mexico border in Tamaulipas state, where organized crime gangs are dominant and the U.S. government warns citizens not to visit due to violence and kidnappings.

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