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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Closer Look at Latest Gas Drilling Methane Study Raises Questions

From the New York Times:
The study, “Toward a better understanding and quantification of methane emissions from shale gas development,” was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and undertaken by Dana R. Caulton and Paul B. Shepson of Purdue and a host of co-authors, including Anthony Ingraffea and Robert Howarth, Cornell scientists who are prominent foes of fracking, along with Renee Santoro of the anti-fracking group Physicians Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy (Ingraffea is affiliated with the group, as well).
Much of the news coverage and commentary was greatly oversimplified, implying that airplane measurements taken on two days in 2012 and showing high methane levels over a handful of wells (and nothing unusual over almost all the other wells in the region) pointed to an extraordinary new pollution and climate change risk. A case in point was this Climate Central post: “Huge Methane Leaks Add Doubt on Gas as ‘Bridge’ Fuel.”
In fact, the study is consistent with other recent work covered here that shows there are specific and tractable issues that can be addressed, making gas production far less leaky and thus a legitimate successor to coal mining.
This section from the paper says as much (I added the paper links to the citation numbers): 
[T]hese regional scale findings and a recent national study (23) indicate that overall sites leak rates can be higher than current inventory estimates. Additionally, a recent comprehensive study of measured natural gas emission rates versus “official” inventory estimates found that the inventories consistently underestimated measured emissions and hypothesized that one explanation for this discrepancy could be a small number of high-emitting wells or components (33) . These high leak rates illustrate the urgent need to identify and mitigate these leaks as shale gas production continues to increase nationally (10).
There is one aspect of the new study that’s worth a deeper dive. The authors noted the presence of sources of coalbed methane — a common peril in coal mines throughout the history of coal mining — near the methane hot spots they found (the supplementary information is here).
Click here to check out this entire article, which contains some very interesting insights.

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