With the worst U.S. drought in over half a century fueling long-overdue public concern about climate disruption, an article in Forbes has again raised the persistent question about the impact of shale gas on our rapidly warming climate. The question was first raised by a study from a Cornell University team; it has since been fairly well debunked at least 8 times, most recently by a colleague at Cornell. However, the original study should be credited with raising an essential question about the impact of fugitive emissions from unconventional gas development.
Industry leaders and the investment community alike say that methane emissions from shale gas development must – and can - be addressed. In April of this year, the U.S. EPA issued new rules requiring capture of methane emissions from gas well completions by 2015 and flaring of methane from new gas wells in the interim. But even with new rules in place, the question is not going away. A recent industry survey claims that the estimate for methane emissions from shale gas that informed EPA’s new rule is too high; that was met with sharp criticism by adherents to and authors of the original Cornell study.
The fact is, methane leakage from shale gas development is a continuing problem. In addition to capturing methane from well completions and minimizing leaks from equipment and distribution systems, the industry must drive well construction mistakes that result in methane leakage to the absolute minimum. That means performing to the highest engineering and construction standards – every well, every time.