In Colonia El Carmen, the home to Mexico’s largest natural gas processing center, a red glare emanates across the skyline.
Run by state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex), the complex disposes of the vast volume of excess gas, a byproduct of oil production, by flaring it.
This is a widespread industry practice that scientists said is detrimental to the environment.
Tamara Sparks is an investigator at the Payne Institute for public policy.
“There are local impacts on the health of the surrounding community. The increasing flaring on those locations, especially because new flaring sites or places where there’s an increasing flaring and perhaps not as efficiently of cleanly operating as a flare that is more steady and continuous and as well for climate change, the increasing flaring overall means more CO2 going into the atmosphere, as well as there is a lot of methane leaking in these locations that aren’t being burned and methane is an even more potent greenhouse gas.”
Burning the excess gas is cheaper than investing in infrastructure to capture, process, and transport it for other uses.
But in addition to carbon dioxide, flaring releases methane, a more potent greenhouse gas.
Residents of Colonia del Carmen – home to roughly 4,000 – listed six major environmental incidents linked to flaring since July in an official complaint to Pemex.
Residents claimed to have suffered from headaches or coughing, and children complained of irritated eyes and itching skin.
Among these residents is Manuel Diaz Herrera.
“Here we inhale lead. The effects of the gas flares are tremendous. Even the houses tremble, and we are always living in fear that one of those gas lines could explode one day.”
NASA satellite images of flare sites across Mexico were analyzed by the Earth Observation Group of the Colorado School of Mines.
Their analysis showed that gas flaring has dramatically increased under President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
The data suggests that Mexico is moving in the opposite direction from a global push to slash greenhouse gas production, despite signing an international pledge to reduce methane emissions.
Pemex declined to comment on this data. Mexico’s presidency, energy and environmental ministries, and environmental regulator did not respond to requests for comment on this report.