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“Something in the Air”: Latest Research Finds Methane Leaks from Gas, Oil Production Much Higher than EPA Estimates

September 3, 2013

In “Something in the air: High methane found near oil and gas operations,” the Boulder Weekly has published more solid data, as the latest research from Utah comes in, showing that methane releases from oil and gas production are much higher — a good ten times higher — than the EPA estimates these leaks to be.

The methane released to the atmosphere, at 6-12% of production, is also far beyond the 1 – 2% leak rates which would have given natural gas any climate advantage over coal.

Since methane is tremendously more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, this is very bad news for climate and more reason to push back against fracking. Here’s an excerpt from the article, published August 29th by Elizabeth Miller:

Photo by Sonja Walter
The CIRES plane lands in the Uintah Basin in Utah.

While flying over Utah collecting air quality data in February, researchers with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) encountered a day with ideal weather conditions for measuring the air over an oil and gas field. The Uintah Basin, south of Vernal, Utah, had been swept clean by high winds on Feb. 2, so the next day, with steady air patterns above the basin, CIRES researchers flew back and forth over the basin with instruments for measuring methane and other natural gases. Their data indicated that the natural gas wells in that field are leaking 6 to 12 percent of the methane they produced — numbers the researchers calculated by comparing the methane measured, some 120,000 pounds an hour, with the average hourly natural gas production rate in Uintah County as reported to the state. That percent rate of emissions is as much as 10 times higher than estimates from the EPA.

“We expected methane emissions would be detectable, but we did not anticipate levels as high as what we observed,” Colm Sweeney, CIRES research scientist and lead scientist for NOAA’s research lab aircraft program, said in a press release from CIRES.

….The EPA National Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data, which tracks total annual U.S. emissions and removals, estimates the methane leak rate nationally at less than 1 percent of production.

Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is the primary constituent of natural gas. And while the EPA continues to say that methane is 25 times more potent at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, on the 100-year time frame, NASA scientist Drew Shindell, climate scientist Bob Howarth, engineer Anthony Ingraffea, and many IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) scientists accept a much higher figure, saying that data shows that methane is 105 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2 in the crucial 20-year time frame.

As Bill McKibben says, do the math! Methane is a climate killer.

Please read the full story, “Something in the Air,” here.

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