Big Leaks Found During Drilling of Shale Gas Wells

by Duane Nichols on April 16, 2014


Methane escapes from natural gas wells even before fracking, new direct measurements from airplane flyovers show

From an Article by Stephanie Ogburn, ClimateWire, E & E Publishing, April 15, 2014

A new study has found that a small number of gas wells are releasing significant quantities of methane into the air even before they are hydraulically fractured, or fracked.

The paper, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the result of measurements of methane made by flying an airplane over parts of the Marcellus Shale.

The researchers detected a “significant regional flux” of methane, a greenhouse gas with about 30 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide over a 100-year period, coming from an area of gas wells in southwestern Pennsylvania.

“Basically what we observed was very high concentrations in a particular region,” said Paul Shepson, a professor of atmospheric chemistry at Purdue University and an author of the study. On two days of airplane flights over the area, the research team detected high concentrations of methane in the atmosphere.

Tracking methane back to the source
While flying, researchers followed those plumes of methane back to individual well pads, where they circled the pads to verify that those were the methane sources. Later, members of the research team worked to understand what processes were occurring at those particular well sites. To their surprise, the researchers learned that the wells had not yet been fracked and were not producing gas.

“The methane emissions from the gas wells … are surprisingly high considering that all of these wells were still being drilled, had not yet been hydraulically fractured, and were not yet in production,” the paper reports.

Typically, during the drilling process, methane emissions are estimated to be between 0.04 and 0.3 gram of methane per second per well. The researchers measured emissions rates of 34 grams of methane per second—100 to 1,000 times greater than those estimates. These high emissions were only found in 1 percent of the wells surveyed, however.

This finding lends additional credence to the idea that a small subset of wells, drilling processes and equipment is probably responsible for a large percentage of the emissions from gas drilling.

A ‘fat tail’ of a few leaky wells
This is often referred to as the “fat tail” or “super-emitter” problem, that just a small subset of wells or pieces of equipment is responsible for the majority of the leaks from the natural gas system (ClimateWire, Feb. 14).

Additional evidence for this idea of super-emitters has been reported in other studies, said Steven Hamburg, chief scientist at the group Environmental Defense Fund, which is spearheading a set of studies on leaks from the natural gas supply chain. “I think everything we have seen so far—but we still have a lot of studies to release—;suggests that fat tails are real,” Hamburg said.

Shepson and his co-authors suggest that the reason for high emissions from those wells was either the fact that drillers encountered methane from shallow coal pockets they found that was released to the surface, or that the wells were drilled using a method called underbalanced drilling, which allows fluids and gas to come up to the surface during the drilling process.

In late March, the Obama administration released guidance directing U.S. EPA to address methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, after a number of studies measuring emissions from the air, known as “top-down” measurements, showed that the agency’s emissions estimates for the industry were too low (ClimateWire, March 31). The agency is expected to release white papers soliciting information from independent experts on the topic as early as this week. In the fall, it is expected to decide whether to develop additional regulations on oil and gas methane sources.

Balancing the findings of such top-down studies with the “bottom-up” inventories done by EPA, in which components and processes are estimated to leak at certain rates and then essentially added up, is a perennial challenge. EDF’s Hamburg said a study sponsored by his group is currently looking at this very issue and is conducting both bottom-up and top-down estimates of emissions in the same location and trying to reconcile them.

Ultimately, both types of studies are needed to determine emissions, he said. “It’s not an ‘either-or’; it’s a ‘both-and,’” Hamburg said.


Job Safety First?

Job Safety First?

Subject: How Many Jobs Does Fracking Really Create?

From an Article by Clare Foran, National Journal, April 14, 2014

It’s not easy to pinpoint the number of jobs generated by fracking.

Fracking creates jobs. That’s the linchpin of the oil and gas industry argument for permitting the controversial drilling practice. And it’s become the industry’s trump card as the debate rages—among policymakers and scientists—over whether fracking is safe for the people and environment around it.

Getting an exact count of how many people collect paychecks as a result of fracking, however, is more art than science, and in many cases—particularly when it comes time for industry backers and politicians to tout the practice—a close look at the numbers shows that some of the largest estimates are based on the most generous economic assumptions.

Take Pennsylvania, a state at the center of the fracking boom. It sits atop the Marcellus shale, the largest rock formation of its kind in the U.S., and has seen a surge in shale gas production. Natural-gas production in Pennsylvania increased by 72 percent from 2011 to 2012, the largest jump out of all the major gas-producing states.

Supporters of fracking say the production explosion has generated a comparable increase in oil and gas jobs. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican awaiting the winner of a crowded Democratic primary in what is projected to be a hotly contested gubernatorial race, has worked to put pro-fracking policies in place—and his campaign is telling Pennsylvanians that the policies have produced results.

The 30,000 figure is the state’s estimate of jobs that are closely connected to natural-gas production in the Marcellus shale—a tally that includes employment in fields like natural-gas extraction, well drilling, and pipeline transportation.

The state also provides another, broader metric of shale-related jobs. Instead of counting jobs in core Marcellus shale industries, it calculates employment in the larger natural-gas supply chain. The total for this category comes to 214,946 jobs in the third quarter of last year.

“We have absolutely no idea how many jobs in that second category are due to natural-gas production,” said Tim McElhinny, an economic research manager at the state Department of Labor and Industry’s center for workforce information and analysis.

None of this is to say that fracking hasn’t created jobs. In 2002, the oil and gas industry employed roughly 6,500 people in Pennsylvania, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. By 2012—the latest year for which BLS had data available—that number had ballooned to more than 30,000, an increase of about 360 percent. During that period, the state saw a rise of only 1.3 percent in total employment.

The energy boom has injected fracking—and energy jobs in general—into the gubernatorial race, but its role in the political discussion dwarfs the sector’s actual impact on the state economy: In 2012, jobs in core industries tied to natural-gas production made up less than 1 percent of Pennsylvania’s total 5.5 million jobs.

“It’s a drop in the bucket,” said Tim Kelsey, a professor at the Pennsylvania State University and cofounder of the Center for Economic and Community Development. “Relative to statewide employment this is a very small number of jobs.”

Pennsylvania’s shale boom was enough to ease—but not erase—the state’s pain during the recession. BLS reports the state shed a net total of 74,133 jobs between 2007 and 2012, while the oil and gas industry added roughly 21,000 jobs. And fracking’s ability to spur employment may be waning.

The industry continues to add jobs, but the pace has slowed. After posting its highest employment gains in a decade between 2010 to 2011—an interval when the industry added roughly 8,800 jobs—the rate of job growth declined significantly the following year. (The industry added just over 5,000 jobs from 2011 to 2012.)

Market forces suggest this dip may be more than a blip: Natural gas has fallen victim to its own success. Fracking has dramatically expanded the natural-gas supply, and as customers pay less for the product, drillers have started to turn to energy sources like oil whose prices are higher and more stable.That’s good news for states like Ohio and North Dakota that sit on fields of the liquid fossil fuel—but bad news for Pennsylvania. It’s also a reminder that the energy boom won’t last forever.


Marcellus Gas Wells Toxic to Local Residents in WV

April 14, 2014

RE: Lisby Well Pad, Marcellus Gas Operation, Tyler County, WV Update from Bill Hughes, Wetzel County, April 13, 2014 Last evening at least five adults smelled the continuing presence of gas fumes while near the Jay-Bee Lisby well pad on the road, or on or near their driveway. Some of these people are familiar with [...]

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Cheat River Canyon: 3800 Acres Preserved for Future Generations

April 13, 2014

Cheat River Canyon Preserved  in Northcentral WV From an Article by Rebecca Olsavsky, The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register, April 13, 2014 Tucked away in the rocks of north-central West Virginia is the secret to a multi-million dollar conservation effort – a “threetooth” snail that actually has just one tooth. Cheat Canyon, the only place on [...]

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WV, PA & OH Impacted by Horizontal Drilling & Fracking

April 12, 2014

Marcellus Shale impacts still large in Wetzel County From an Article by Mandi Cardosi, WTRF 7 News, Wheeling, WV, April 11, 2014 Wetzel County has always been a producer of natural gas, but a boom in the Marcellus Shale gas drilling really put it on the map for the Mountain State. Since 2008, the county at [...]

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‘Years of Living Dangerously,’ Landmark Series on Climate Change

April 11, 2014

First Episode of ‘Years of Living Dangerously,’ Landmark Series on Climate Change. From the Article by Brandon Baker,, April 9, 2014 ‘Years of Living Dangerously,’ Showtime’s Landmark Series on Climate Change this Sunday. Years of Living Dangerously, the first-ever series solely about climate change premieres at 10 p.m. Sunday on Showtime, but you don’t [...]

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Progress (or Not) with Energy and the Environment (Part II)

April 10, 2014

II What are the alternatives and what are their characteristics. Part 2 of three parts. By S. Tom Bond, Retired Chemistry Professor & Resident Farmer, Lewis County, WV Waste products are a huge, largely unrecognized, problem with burning hydrocarbons. Originally it was seen that coal could be shipped to the cities and electricity generated there [...]

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Air-Water-Land Issues from Marcellus Operations in Tyler County, WV

April 9, 2014

Report on Drilling & Fracking on Big Run in Tyler County By William J. Hughes, WV Route 7, April 5, 2014 In a number of my recent Power Point presentations on the black shale “exploration & production” process I have included a slide which I think represents  a challenge to WV-DEP.  I could not help [...]

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Dunkard & Ten Mile Creeks in PA Leased to Drilling Operations

April 8, 2014

Greene County creeks leased for drilling by PA-DCNR From an Article by Emily Petsko, Washington PA Observer-Reporter, April 4, 2014 Two Greene County creeks are doubling as drilling sites for local energy companies, joining the more than 1,400 acres of public waterways across Pennsylvania leased to natural gas companies by the state in the past [...]

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New Incidents: Pipeline Rupture & Fire in Marshall County, WV // Drilling Death in Belmont County, OH

April 7, 2014

Pipeline Rupture at Oak Grove Site Leads to Fire – Unrelated Accident Kills Man in Belmont County From an Article by Casey Junkins And Shelley Hanson, Wheeling Intelligencer, April 6, 2014 A 12-inch natural gas pipeline in Marshall County ruptured and caught fire about 8 a.m. Saturday. No one was injured. The rupture of the [...]

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