A series of new studies find that methane emissions from oil and gas operations in the Barnett Shale are actually 50 percent higher than what the EPA has estimated.
The studies, published in Environmental Science & Technology, paint a varied picture, however. The source of methane emissions come from an array of sites, and could be a larger problem than many thought. However, plugging the leaks is largely possible with available technology and monitoring.
Oil and gas drilling have come under increased scrutiny for their “fugitive methane” emissions in recent years – essentially natural gas that has escaped into the atmosphere either during the drilling process or along the supply chain. The problem with methane is that it is a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change, and is somewhere on the order of 25 times as potent in terms of its warming potential when compared to carbon dioxide. That has the federal government looking to tighten the regulatory screws on leaking methane.
But finding and assessing the rate at which methane is escaping into the atmosphere is difficult, and studies measuring the true extent of the leakage rate run the gamut. Related: EIA Data Still Diverging From Reality
The 11 studies just published find that methane emissions could be 50 percent higher than what the EPA has found. The studies were coordinated by the Environmental Defense Fund, an environmental group that seeks to reduce fugitive methane emissions. Steven Hamburg, chief scientist with EDF, wrote on July 7 that the studies prove that the “industry has a significant methane pollution problem driven by widespread, often unpredictable emission sources.”
At the same time, Hamburg says that getting a handle on the emissions is entirely feasible. A 2014 study from ICF finds that the industry could slash methane emissions by 40 percent over five years by using technology that is already available. Better yet, it would only cost one cent per thousand cubic feet of natural gas. Related: Is Russia Ready To Make A Comeback?
However, the latest studies, which focused on the Barnett Shale, show that companies are choosing not to plug their leaks since they are not required to. But that could change. The federal government released a proposal earlier this year that calls for a 40 to 45 percent reduction in methane emissions between 2012 and 2025. The particulars have not yet been finalized, but the EPA and the Bureau of Land Management will soon release proposed regulations.
By Charles Kennedy of Oilprice.com
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