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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Studies identify big targets for methane emissions reductions

Two new studies focus on big targets for substantially reducing methane emissions resulting from oil and gas drilling.

The first is a study of methane emissions from abandoned wells in Pennsylvania – a draft of which I blogged about here. The now-completed study has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Direct measurements of methane emissions from abandoned oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania finds significant methane emissions from 19 wells studied.  Scaling those results suggests that abandoned wells may account for between four and seven percent of methane emissions in Pennsylvania. 

More importantly, when the results are scaled up further to the estimated 3 million abandoned wells nationally, as lead researcher Mary Kang of Stanford University writes,  “the cumulative emissions from abandoned wells may be significantly larger than the cumulative leakage associated with oil and gas production, which has a shorter lifetime of operation.”

The paper calls for additional research to quantify these emissions nationally.  And while we’re at it, these wells must be systematically found and plugged.  

The second study, Methane Emissions from Process Equipment at Natural Gas Production Sites in the United States: Pneumatic Controllers, was published in the Environmental Science and Technology journal. It was funded by the Environmental Defense Fund, which is doing superb work on the methane issue, along with ten oil and gas producers. 

According to this report, the study:
says two parts of the production process should be targeted for reduced methane emissions. Researchers…concluded that pneumatic devices and liquid unloadings pose the most risk to fugitive methane. And just a small percentage of each device tested account for the bulk of emissions.
More about the study, which supports the regulatory action of states like Colorado - and the case for strong, simple, and cost-effective Federal methane emissions regulations - here.

The two reports identify big targets for reducing methane emissions beyond EPA's green completion requirements that go into effect next year. Will regulators hit those targets?

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