Fracking study finds methane emissions lower than EPA estimates

A new study of methane emissions at natural gas production sites in the United States has found that the Environmental Protection Agency’s methods for estimating emissions “overpredict” those emissions. The result of the overpredicting, to which the study does not attribute a cause, is “a large uncertainty” in the national emissions from gas well unloading. The study was conducted by the Centre for Energy and Environmental Resources, University of Texas. Approximately 500 wells were analyzed for the study. The analysis was conducted on the drilling sites and reports direct on-site measurements of methane emissions. Other studies, the report points out, frequently measure emissions at up to 1 kilometre’s distance from the wellhead.

fracking-natural-gas-methane-emissions-EPA-University-Texas-EDIWeekly
A University of Texas study of methane emissions at fracking well sites in the US are lower than EPA estimates for “flowback” but higher from equipment-related leaks.

The finding that drilling for shale gas by fracking causes smaller leaks of methane than previously believed will provide ammunition for proponents of fracking. They have argued all along that shale gas is clean—certainly cleaner than coal—and safe. The study found that while a great deal of methane did escape from wells that were being prepared for production, most of that methane (more than 99 per cent) was captured.

One important result from the measurements reported here is that current EPA estimation methods overpredict measured emissions. If the emission estimation method  used in the API/ANGA survey is applied to the events sampled in this work, estimates are 5 times higher than measured emissions.

Centre for Energy and  Environmental Resources, University of Texas

Some of the methane emissions occur when the drilled well is cleared of the liquids that were used to fracture the shale. This is known as “well completion flowback.” The Texas study found that the average flowback emission of methane was 1.7 Mg per completion. The EPA estimate, by contrast, is 81 Mg of methane per flowback. Other sources of emissions are equipment leaks and pneumatic pumps used in the process. The pneumatic pumps release methane as part of their routine operation, the study says. The Texas study found that the combined leakage of methane from flowback, equipment leaks, and pneumatic pumps was 0.42 per cent of gross gas production.

The report states that well completion emissions are lower than previously estimated, while emissions from leaking equipment and the operation of pneumatic pumps and wellhead controllers are higher than EPA estimates. The significance of the report is that it will help inform policymakers and industry, and “better inform and advance” the discussion among national and international scientists and governments.

Did you miss this?

Other Popular Stories

  • Government investment, weakening dollar, stronger US economy could spell relief for Canada's manufacturers
  • Relief as Ontario company rescues closing Heinz plant
  • California to test grid-scale power-to-gas energy storage
  • UN aviation body sets first CO2 emissions standard for world's airlines
  • Ford GT supercar in production at Markham's Multimatic plant
  • Government pledges continued support as National Mining Week begins
  • Interstellar Mission to Commemorate 100th Anniversary of Moon Landing
  • Bombardier CSeries finally flies the skies of Paris
  • Infrastructure investment must be smart, forward-thinking: report
  • Elon Musk's stainless steel "Starship" from SpaceX — orbit test in six months, then on to Mars?
  • Manufacturing sector saw slight improvement in August: RBC
  • Waterloo researchers seek cheaper fuel cells for electric cars
  • Canada risks losing out in renewable energy revolution
  • BMW unveils i3, the electric car of the future
  • 50,000 smaller Ontario manufacturers miss out on the 17 per-cent cut to electricity bills
  • Canada will reduce oil and gas industry emissions
  • Housing starts, employment, up sharply in May
  • Transportation workers urge quick response to Lac-Megantic report
  • Canada's exports soared in June while imports fell
  • Automation, robotics to have profound effect on industry in coming years
Scroll to Top