Permian oil and gas operators have something to hide

The morning of Friday, May 14th, Sharon Wilson (Earthworks’ Senior Field Advocate and Certified Optical Gas Imaging Thermographer) and I drove our rented vehicle down County Rd. 1205 S in Midland, Texas. Sharon sat in the passenger seat with the optical gas imaging (OGI) camera fired up and ready to detect emissions. Our target was Endeavor Energy Resources’ “Bankhead 4-33 Unit 2,” a site we had monitored two days before.

Wednesday May 12th, Sharon documented emissions spewing from the site’s tanks Enardo valves (see below). 


We parked along the side of this public road, set up a tripod, recorded the emissions. An Endeavor contractor  did eventually approach us to ask what we were doing. In a calm, collected manner, we told the contractor our business; the contractor–equally calm–climbed back into his truck and left us be. Unsurprising, since our monitoring is perfectly legal. 

On Friday’s visit, industry’s response was starkly more aggressive. We never even had a chance to park. We turned left off CR 1205 to another public road, Geneva St. Easing through the road, a couple of industry trucks zoomed past us from the opposite direction–a large cargo truck, and a pickup truck. I rolled down my window so Sharon could point the camera at the site–which was on the left side of the car. Through the rearview mirror, I saw the industry white pickup brake hard and begin to reverse. Our car was now still. From the passenger seat, Sharon began to see the site through her camera, when the industry pickup blocked the view. The driver had reversed briskly so that his truck stood directly in our line of vision. 

The employee rolled down his window and asked what we were doing at his site, claiming we couldn’t video his site. Sharon assured it was legal. The employee asked how we would like it if someone recorded our property from a public road. Sharon said it didn’t matter whether she liked it or not, it was legal. That’s when the employee threatened to call the Sheriff. Sharon invited him to do so. We were on public property after all. While the industry employee looked down, presumably to call the Sheriff, I drove past the truck so that we could return to our view of the site. Not too long after, the truck continued to reverse, determined to block our view. I drove to the end of the road and made a U turn so that Sharon could point the camera from her side of the car. 

We stopped at the side of the road, in the opposite direction now, with our blinkers on. There was very little space between our car and the edge of the site’s fence. Nonetheless, the industry employee continued to reverse aggressively, attempting to jam his truck between our vehicle and the fence. There was not enough space, but the truck kept reversing. I had to react quickly to dodge the truck from crashing directly into our vehicle’s right-side headlights. In the midst of this defense, Sharon was able to record only a few seconds but  captured what the employee was clearly trying to hide (see below). The same tanks emitting from Wednesday’s visit were blasting with emissions. The plume was thick, traveling quickly, and substantially worse than Wednesday’s emissions. Satisfied with the video, we made our way out of the site. The industry’s truck followed us for a few blocks once we left, but eventually dropped pursuit. 

Note from Sharon to operators: “I will continue to document the climate and health harming pollution from your facilities. I will do so, legally from public property. The only way you can stop me is to stop your pollution.”