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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Methane emissions: more data, more questions

A very limited study of natural gas production in  Utah's Uinta Basin - home to 6,000 wells that account for 1 percent of the nation’s natural gas production - has found that between 6 percent and 12 percent of the basin’s natural gas production could be escaping into the atmosphere.  That estimate is vastly higher than EPA's estimate of less than 2 percent leakage across the industry.

The study's finding were based on measurements recorded during a single four-hour window on one day. 

Read that last sentence again.

The results are profoundly troubling.  But it is important to understand that they are based on a very limited snapshot, and the methods used and conclusions drawn are open to some interpretation.  For some excellent analysis of the study, read this post by Council on Foreign Relations' Michael Levi and this post by Steven Hamburg of the Environmental Defense Fund.  

Robust measurement systems must be standardized, and then quickly and universally deployed to fully understand - and then to stringently regulate - fugitive methane emissions.  Minimizing methane leakage - from well completion, gathering, processing, and transmission - is a basic, must-do task for the industry, and the technology is available, now.  That work is insisted upon by investors, and doing it is a major determinant of the gas industry's social licence to operate - both of which the industry ignores at its peril.  But it is even a more critical issue for a planet facing climate peril. 

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