Study Shows Methane Drop

Nearly 100 percent reduction in fugitive gas from fracking

Wheeling Intelligencer
23 September 2013
By Casey Junkins, Staff Writer

A University of Texas study shows there is now 97 percent less fugitive methane - a greenhouse gas believed to be 20 times more harmful to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide - escaping into the atmosphere from shale gas fracking than in 2011.

However, with methane and other hydrocarbons being "flared off" at well sites and natural gas processing plants throughout the Marcellus and Utica shale regions, Wheeling Jesuit University biology professor Ben Stout is not impressed.

Unburned methane that vents directly into the atmosphere can be 20 times more harmful than carbon dioxide, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The study was performed by the university, the Environmental Defense Fund, natural gas producers such as XTO Energy, Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron, as well as an independent scientific advisory panel.

Researchers collected data from 190 well sites throughout the U.S.

During the yearlong study, the University of Texas team selected times and general locations for sampling activities, while companies provided access to fracking jobs that occurred during those periods.

The study determined that only 0.42 percent of total methane emissions can be attributed to natural gas drilling, a figure that American Petroleum Institute Director of Regulatory and Scientific Affairs Howard Feldman said represents significant progress.

"The industry has led efforts to reduce emissions of methane by developing new technologies and equipment, and these efforts are paying off," Feldman said. "The industry will continue to make substantial progress to reduce emissions voluntarily and in compliance with EPA's recent emissions standards."

"The oil and natural gas revolution has been one of the few bright spots in our economic recovery, driving unprecedented job growth, providing Americans with affordable energy, and helping to reduce emissions," Feldman added.

According to the National Geophysical Data Center, flaring is a widely used practice for the disposal of natural gas in areas where there is no infrastructure to make use of the gas. These officials believe the practice unloads unnecessary amounts of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

"Hopefully, there will be less fugitive methane in the future," Stout said. "I know they say they want to limit it, but they are still just flaring a lot of it off around here."

Mark Brownstein, associate vice president and chief counsel of the U.S. Climate and Energy Program for the Environmental Defense Fund, also worked on the study.

He said it shows that companies that put forth effort to control methane emissions can succeed.