Methane Leakage from Natural Gas Wells Greater Than Previous Estimates

by admin on May 15, 2020

Methane and other hydrocarbons are potent greenhouse gases

Methane leaks much worse than previously thought, study says

From an Article by Don Hopey, Pittsburgh Post Gazette, May 13, 2020

Natural gas drillers in Pennsylvania leaked more than 1.1 million tons of methane into the air in 2017, 16 times the amount they reported to the state, according to an Environmental Defense Fund review.

The review released Wednesday morning found that fugitive emissions of methane from approximately 8,000 unconventional shale gas wells totaled 543,000 tons for 2017, not the 70,150 tons reported to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Methane emissions from almost 73,000 older, vertical, or “conventional” gas wells totaled another 599,200 tons. The PA-DEP doesn’t collect fugitive emissions data on conventional well sites.

“The fact that natural gas operators are emitting well over a million tons of methane pollution each year into the air Pennsylvanians breathe is unacceptable,” Dan Grossman, senior director of state advocacy at EDF, said in the organization’s news release. “The staggering scale of the methane problem in Pennsylvania makes Gov. Wolf’s proposal to reduce emissions from existing oil and gas operations all the more critical.”

The new EDF review builds on a July 2018 study in the peer-reviewed journal Science that found fugitive emissions of methane from wells across the U.S. in 2015 were 60% higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency inventory estimate.

The new review, which uses 2017 data and emissions modeling developed for the 2018 Science study by EDF and more than 140 research and industry experts, found Pennsylvania methane emissions in 2017 were double the 2015 estimate.

“Tapping into the latest scientific research and best available data has allowed us to more accurately discern the state’s oil and gas methane emissions in a way that best reflects conditions on the ground,” Hillary Hull, EDF senior manager for research and analytics, said in the release.

The new analysis, which also projects methane emissions in the state through 2030, said those emissions will climb to 13 million tons under existing regulations, would drop to approximately 6.5 million tons if regulations were stronger and would increase to 19 million tons if they are weakened.

Gas drilling companies are required to report their fugitive emissions to the PA-DEP so the department can assess the impact of those pollutants on public health based air quality standards.

Allen Robinson, who heads the Carnegie Mellon University mechanical engineering department and helped develop the modeling used in the 2018 Science study, said the department is getting an incomplete picture of the problems posed by fugitive methane emissions.

“Methane is a serious climate issue and also a wasted resource, wasted product issue,” Mr. Robinson said. “And I don’t know why PA-DEP doesn’t measure methane emissions from conventional wells. From a climate perspective it just doesn’t make any sense.”

The EDF said methane, the primary component of natural gas, is a greenhouse gas over 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in the near-term warming of the planet, which can contribute to extreme weather events, longer and hotter summers, and increased risk of Lyme disease and West Nile virus. High airborne concentrations of methane can be explosive and can cause a host of health impacts including headaches and dizziness, nausea and vomiting, loss of coordination and trouble breathing.

The EDF review also found that oil and gas operations emitted more than 63,000 tons of volatile organic compounds, which can form ozone, the primary component of unhealthy smog. VOC exposure can cause heart disease and exacerbate respiratory diseases, such as asthma and emphysema.

The Centers for Disease Control has also found that individuals living with those conditions are more at risk for severe illness from other infections, such as COVID-19, the EDF said in its release.

David Spigelmyer, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a drilling industry advocacy organization, issued an email statement that notes “credible federal, state and independent third party organization data shows overall emissions, including methane, continue to dramatically drop as natural gas production soars. . .”

“Since methane is the very product produced and sold, operators have every incentive, especially in this historic low price environment, to capture and market natural gas,” Mr. Spigelmyer stated. “Through new technologies and best practices — such as robust leak detection and repair programs and vapor recovery systems — operators continue to make significant progress to ensure natural gas reaches market,”

The PA-DEP has been working on a new methane emissions reduction rule, and Lauren Fraley, a PA-DEP spokeswoman, said it is set to be published later this month followed by a 60-day public comment period.

“The EDF data highlights the need to reduce methane, and the Wolf administration/DEP recognizes the need to act quickly to reduce methane pollution from wells and other natural gas infrastructure,” Ms. Fraley said.

The regulation, as currently written, will reduce methane emissions by more than 75,000 tons per year, she said in an email response to questions.

“Gov. Tom Wolf and the DEP are to be commended for advancing a methane rule that addresses emissions from the state’s tens of thousands of existing oil and gas wells,” Mr. Grossman said. “It’s essential that the state adopt a strong final rule that protects public health and delivers on the governor’s promise to tackle climate change.”

But the Trump administration announced last fall it would move in the opposite direction and seek to roll back the federal methane rule.

”It is not a priority in this administration to apply methods to reduce methane emissions,” said Mr. Robinson. ”It’s really a matter of having the political will to put structural methods in place. If we wanted to, we could have an impact on the emissions totals.”

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