Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

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

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

——–

A diabolical ironclad beetle. Heather Broccard-Bell / iStock / Getty Images Plus

The aptly named diabolical ironclad beetle (Phloeodes diabolicus) has an exoskeleton so strong, it can survive being pecked by birds and even run over by cars. When early entomologists tried to mount them as specimens, BBC News explained, that exoskeleton would snap or bend their pins.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sun Cable hopes to start construction of the world's largest solar farm in 2023. Sun Cable
A large expanse of Australia's deserted Outback will house the world's largest solar farm and generate enough energy to export power to Singapore, as The Guardian reported.
Read More Show Less

Trending

We pet owners know how much you love your pooch. It's your best friend. It gives you pure happiness and comfort when you're together. But there are times that dogs can be very challenging, especially if they are suffering from a certain ailment. As a dog owner, all you want to do is ease whatever pain or discomfort your best friend is feeling.

Read More Show Less
Construction on the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric station in 2015. Government of Newfoundland and Labrador / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By Tara Lohan

In 1999 a cheering crowd watched as a backhoe breached a hydroelectric dam on Maine's Kennebec River. The effort to help restore native fish populations and the river's health was hailed as a success and ignited a nationwide movement that spurred 1,200 dam removals in two decades.

Read More Show Less
A new study has revealed that Earth's biggest mass extinction was triggered by volcanic activity that led to ocean acidification. Illustration by Dawid Adam Iurino (PaleoFactory, Sapienza University of Rome) for Jurikova et al (2020)

The excess carbon dioxide emitted by human activity since the start of the industrial revolution has already raised the Earth's temperature by more than one degree Celsius, increased the risk of extreme hurricanes and wildfires and killed off more than half of the corals in the Great Barrier Reef. But geologic history shows that the impacts of greenhouse gases could be much worse.

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch