Tuesday, August 16, 2016

In U.S. Methane Hot Spot, Researchers Pinpoint Sources of 250 Leaks

Aircraft-based sensors were used to identify oil, gas and coal operations that are leaking methane across the Four Corners region of the American Southwest.

The Four Corners Region in the American Southwest is one of the country's largest sources of methane emissions (Credit: San Juan Basin in New Mexico via EcoFlight) Click to Enlarge.
Methane is escaping from more than 250 different oil and gas wells, storage tanks, pipelines, coal mines and other fossil fuel facilities across the Four Corners region of the U.S. Southwest, according to a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

The findings help solve a puzzle that had preoccupied the study's researchers since 2014.  That year, they published research in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that flagged the region as one of the country's largest sources of methane emissions, but they couldn't determine the exact sources of the runaway gas.

The difference in this study, the researchers said, is that they used aircraft-based sensors allowing them to pinpoint the source of leaks within a few feet.  The earlier paper relied on less precise, region-wide satellite data.
The Four Corners region, where Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico meet, spans more than 1,000 square miles.  It is one of the nation's largest producers of coal bed methane and releases about 600,000 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere each year.  That's roughly six times the amount of methane that leaked from California's Aliso Canyon well over several months beginning in late 2015, an event that sparked evacuations, outrage and protests, and new regulation.

The study is the latest to show that a small number of "superemitters" mainly from oil and gas operations are responsible for the majority of U.S. methane emissions.
In the new study, for example, researchers detected the biggest leak at a gas processing facility near the airport in Durango, Colo., during one monitoring flight.  Subsequent flights, however, failed to detect the same leak, suggesting emissions from the facility were highly sporadic.

If superemitting sites are short-lived and flitting—here one week, there another, for instance—constant monitoring and mitigation across the entire oil and gas sector will be required.  And airplane-based readings are seen as too expensive for that work.

Read more at In U.S. Methane Hot Spot, Researchers Pinpoint Sources of 250 Leaks

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