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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Drilling shale gas wells may be a huge methane emission source - UPDATED

The act of drilling shale gas wells could be a huge - and hugely underestimated - source of methane emissions, according to a new study of drilling in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Toward a better understanding and quantification of methane emissions from shale gas development, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found methane emission rates from a handful of well pads to be 100 to 1,000 times higher than EPA estimates.

This LA Times story and this report from StateImpactPA are must-reads, the latter pointing out that EPA has also just published five white papers on air emissions from the oil and natgas sector for public review.  

The industry response to the latest study was to shoot the messenger.

Obviously, the science is not yet conclusive, and more work needs to and is being done. But this is a very big deal that appears to be getting bigger with closer scrutiny. It's also increasingly clear that existing (and not yet fully operational) Federal regulations on methane emissions - while very good - may not be nearly thorough enough or tough enough. 

The hard look at methane emissions from the oil and gas sector that the Obama Administration has promised may need to be a whole lot harder.

April 23 update:  This piece on the PNAS study by the New York Times' Andrew Revkin is essential reading. 

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