Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Researchers Find Record Leaks of Methane from Oil Shale Boom Areas

Fracking in the Bakken Shale  (Credit: Click to enlarge.
Oil and gas basins in North Dakota and East Texas leaked around 10 percent of natural gas they produced to the atmosphere between 2006 and 2011.  Natural gas is composed primarily of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that exacerbates climate change.

Considering that North Dakota's Bakken Shale produced 485 million cubic feet per day of gas in September 2011, a 10 percent leak adds up to a whole lot of greenhouse gas emissions. The Eagle Ford of East Texas produced 1,232 million cubic feet of gas per day in 2011. The leakage rates were published this month in the journal Earth's Future.

The leakage rate in the study is the largest reported so far for the energy industry, and it challenged the industry's and U.S. EPA's perception of operations as relatively clean.

The study finds that the Bakken and Eagle Ford basins leaked between 3 percent and 17 percent of the natural gas produced between 2009 and 2011, with the Bakken most likely emitting 10.1 percent and the Eagle Ford most likely emitting 9.1 percent.

For the study, scientists used satellite measurements and a unique methodology to compute the methane leakage rate, which is one of the key unknowns about energy usage in the United States today.
Other studies have found much lower leakage rates.  For instance, David Allen, a researcher at the University of Texas, Austin, and the Environmental Defense Fund measured leaks from equipment at individual well pads.  They found leakage was just 0.42 percent of the methane produced.

The Allen study could be indicative of the industry at its best.  Allen and his colleagues measured well pads with the cooperation of the industry and did not include emissions from gathering systems, compressors and other equipment known to be leaky.
Kelsey Robinson, a spokeswoman at EDF, said: "It should be noted that the [University of Texas] study only estimated leakage rates from the production sector, whereas this one estimates emissions from the entire supply chain.  That could be a reason for the disparity."

Researchers Find Record Leaks of Methane from Oil Shale Boom Areas

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