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Monday, September 16, 2013

New Study Finds Low Methane Emissions From Gas Drilling; Fracktivists Already Attacking It

From the New York Times:
In 2011, a Cornell research team led by the environmental scientist Robert Howarth published “Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural
gas from shale formations
,” a widely discussed paper positing that gas escaping from drilling operations using hydraulic fracturing, widely known as fracking, made natural gas a bigger climate threat than the most infamous fossil fuel, coal. (Natural gas is mostly methane, and methane is a potent heat-trapping gas.)
There’s been a lot of backing and forthing in the literature on natural gas and the greenhouse ever since. In the meantime, the climate concerns of Howarth and his Cornell colleague Anthony Ingraffea have been pushed hard by foes of expanded fracking, most notably in the updated version of the Josh Fox film “Gasland.”
As I and Cliff Krauss wrote in 2009, methane leakage is a big problem — and an opportunity (among other things, stanching leaks results in more gas to sell).
But what’s been missing is a comprehensive, independent and open set of measurements taken around drilling operations. That’s produced a pattern I’ve seen on a host of similar environmental issues: A paucity of data leads to a overabundance of assertion.
That’s all starting to change as the first of a planned batch of 16 papersprobing emissions data produced by a comprehensive on-the-ground gas measurement initiative has been published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The analysis, led by David T. Allen and other energy and environment researchers at the University of Texas, finds that estimates of methane escaping from gas drilling made by the Environmental Protection Agency are fairly accurate, over all, while those from industry critics and some indirect studies of leakage (from aerial measurements, for example) appear far too high. A comprehensive package of background on the research has been posted by the university. [Update, 4:21 p.m. | Seth Borenstein and Kevin Begos filed a helpful Associated Press piece on the study.]
While the researchers found that emissions from a critical stage of well construction — “completions” — are far lower than regulators had estimated, they pinpointed an important under-appreciated source of escaping gas — pneumatic devices powered by the pressure of the extracted natural gas. Authors said this should help regulators and industry close in on ways to further reduce emissions. Here’s Allen describing the work:
Attacks on the credibility of the new work are already beginning, focusing on  how it was funded in large part by a batch of gas and oil companies that also provided the research team with access to drilling sites. Leading the charge is Physicians Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy, which has posted a five-page critique calling the study “fatally flawed” and noting the small sample size and potential sources of bias.
Read that whole article, which is a pretty objective look at the back-and-forth that has already started over this study, by clicking here.

To get the biased coverage from both sides of this study, there are two other articles you can check out.  First, the industry-friendly viewpoint of Energy in Depth.  Next, the other extreme comes from Americans Against Fracking.

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