Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Airborne Study Shows Colorado Oil and Gas Wells Leaked 3 Times More Methane Than EPA Estimates

Scientists from a multi-agency partnership went airborne to discover that some greenhouse gases leaked up to seven times more from Colorado's largest oil and gas than regulators previously estimated.

Researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder led the peer-reviewed study in 2012 and have now received approval for publication in the American Geophysical Union’s Journal of Geophysical Research—Atmospheres.

[blackoutgallery id="333692"]

The study's findings were stark. Oil and gas operations in Colorado’s Front Range leaked nearly three times as much methane as predicted, based on inventory estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program, and seven times as much benzene. Other summertime ozone polluters leaked about twice as much as estimates.

“These discrepancies are substantial,” said lead author Gabrielle Petron, an atmospheric scientist with NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. “Emission estimates or ‘inventories’ are the primary tool that policy makers and regulators use to evaluate air quality and climate impacts of various sources, including oil and gas sources.

"If they’re off, it’s important to know.”

The NOAA-CIRES study is part of ongoing research coordinated by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). The organization lauded Colorado for being first in the nation to directly target methane leaks. Newly approved rules are expected to curb nearly 200,000 combined tons of methane and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) per yeear.

“When it comes to air pollution from the oil and gas industry, Colorado is a state on the leading edge of science and regulation,” said Mark Brownstein, the EDF’s associate vice president and chief counsel of U.S. climate and energy. “The study underscores the importance of the steps that Colorado is taking to reduce total hydrocarbon pollution—both VOCs and methane—from oil and gas operations. I hope other states and the federal EPA are paying attention to the science and policy emerging in Colorado.”

There were about 24,000 active oil and gas wells in Weld County at the time of research. There were about 10,000 fewer wells four years earlier when a study using a mobile laboratory discovered that methane and benzene emissions were two and seven times higher than estimates, respectively.

The aircraft used by Petron in the newer research helped to measure chemical concentrations in the air, downwind and upwind of the Denver-Julesburg Basin, where the wells are located. Meanwhile, NOAA wind profilers near Platteville and Greeley tracked wind speed and direction around the clock.

The team subtracted inventory estimates of methane emissions from animal feedlots, landfills, wastewater treatment plants and other sources and still found that 26 metric tons of methane were emitted each hour in a region centered on Weld County.

Benzene emissions from oil and gas activities were about 380 pounds per hour, compared with a state estimate of about 50 pounds per hour. The results suggest that oil and gas may be as significant a source of benzene as car and truck tailpipes.

The Methane Research Series is the EDF's  largest scientific project to date. It involves partnerships with with nearly 100 universities, research institutions and oil and gas companies. It is divided into 16 projects, with research from the likes of Washington State and West Virginia universities.

——–

YOU ALSO MIGHT LIKE

Study Shows Oil and Gas Industry Can Reduce Methane Emissions By 40 Percent

Purdue and Cornell Researchers Find Up to 1,000 Times More Methane Emissions Than Estimated in Drilling Phase

Groups Launch Ballot Initiative to Give Coloradans Local Control Over Fracking

——–

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Some speculate that the dissemination of the Antarctic beeches or Nothofagus moorei (seen above in Australia) dates to the time when Antarctica, Australia and South America were connected. Auscape / Universal Images Group / Getty Images

A team of scientists drilled into the ground near the South Pole to discover forest and fossils from the Cretaceous nearly 90 million years ago, which is the time when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, as the BBC reported.

Read More Show Less
The recovery of elephant seals is one of the "signs of hope" that scientists say show the oceans can recover swiftly if we let them. NOAA / CC BY 2.0

The challenges facing the world's oceans are well known: plastic pollution could crowd out fish by 2050, and the climate crisis could wipe out coral reefs by 2100.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A schoolchildren crossing sign is seen in front of burned trees in Mallacoota, Australia on Jan. 15, 2020. Luis Ascui / Getty Images

By Bhiamie Williamson, Francis Markham and Jessica Weir

The catastrophic bushfire season is officially over, but governments, agencies and communities have failed to recognize the specific and disproportionate impact the fires have had on Aboriginal peoples.

Read More Show Less
Workers convert the Scottish Events Campus, where COP26 was to be held, into a field hospital to treat COVID-19 patients. ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP via Getty Images

The most important international climate talks since the Paris agreement was reached in 2015 have been delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Read More Show Less
An aerial view of a crude oil storage facility of Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) in the Krasnodar Territory. Vitaly Timkiv / TASS / Getty Images

Oil rigs around the world keep pulling crude oil out of the ground, but the global pandemic has sent shockwaves into the market. The supply is up, but demand has plummeted now that industry has ground to a halt, highways are empty, and airplanes are parked in hangars.

Read More Show Less