Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

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

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

Because natural gas has less carbon than dirty coal, gas producers and even the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have applauded it as a cleaner alternative. Hopefully, a joint study from researchers at two universities will change that.

Purdue and Cornell universities on Monday released a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America with data on higher-than-expected methane levels found above shale gas wells.

The researchers used a "top-down" approach, flying over seven well pads of the Marcellus shale formation in southwestern Pennsylvania. They accounted for less than 1 percent of the wells in Southwestern Pennsylvania and were only in the drilling stage, which usually isn't when the emissions take place.

Purdue and Cornell researchers flew over well pads like this one in Southwestern Pennsylvania to discover higher-than-expected methane levels during the production of natural gas. Photo credit: Dana Caulton/Purdue University

"This small fraction of the total number of wells was contributing a much larger large portion of the total emissions in the area, and the emissions for this stage were not represented in the current inventories," Paul Shepson, a professor of chemistry and earth atmospheric and planetary sciences at Purdue, said in a statement.

By flying in the specially equipped Purdue Airborne Laboratory for Atmospheric Research, the researchers were able to identify methane plumes from both single and group pads. The plumes give off signals about the production state of the gas.

A look at the Purdue Airborne Laboratory for Atmospheric Research, which was used to identify methane plumes from natural gas production in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Photo credit: Paul Shepson/Purdue University

"It is particularly noteworthy that large emissions were measured for wells in the drilling phase, in some cases 100 to 1,000 times greater than the inventory estimates," Shepson said. "This indicates that there are processes occurring—e.g. emissions from coal seams during the drilling process—that are not captured in the inventory development process. This is another example pointing to the idea that a large fraction of the total emissions is coming from a small fraction of shale gas production components that are in an anomalous condition."

According to the White House, methane has about 20 times the global warming effect of carbon dioxide. That's why President Barack Obama announced a new layer to his Climate Action Plan in March to reduce methane emissions, though many environmental groups thought it was not aggressive enough. Before that, the Environmental Defense Fund EDF and ICF International jointly concluded that the onshore oil and gas industry could collectively reduce methane emissions by at least 40 percent below 2018 projections. Methane emissions have dropped by 11 percent since 1990.

The researchers blame the bottom-up approach for inaccuracy of previous methane emissions in the area they explored. Cornell University's David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future funded the fly-over project.

"We need to develop a way to objectively measure emissions from shale gas development that includes the full range of operator types, equipment states and engineering approaches," Shepson said. "A whole-systems approach to measurement is needed to understand exactly what is occurring."

——–

YOU ALSO MIGHT LIKE

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

Exxon’s Contradictory Reports Applaud Natural Gas and Fighting Climate Change

Obama’s Methane Emissions Plan Puts Oil, Coal and Gas Industries on Notice

——–

A dugong, also called a sea cow, swims with golden pilot jacks near Marsa Alam, Egypt, Red Sea. Alexis Rosenfeld / Getty Images

In 2010, world leaders agreed to 20 targets to protect Earth's biodiversity over the next decade. By 2020, none of them had been met. Now, the question is whether the world can do any better once new targets are set during the meeting of the UN Convention on Biodiversity in Kunming, China later this year.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

President Joe Biden signs executive orders in the State Dining Room at the White House on Jan. 22, 2021 in Washington, DC. Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images

By Andrew Rosenberg

The first 24 hours of the administration of President Joe Biden were filled not only with ceremony, but also with real action. Executive orders and other directives were quickly signed. More actions have followed. All consequential. Many provide a basis for not just undoing actions of the previous administration, but also making real advances in public policy to protect public health, safety, and the environment.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Melting ice forms a lake on free-floating ice jammed into the Ilulissat Icefjord during unseasonably warm weather on July 30, 2019 near Ilulissat, Greenland. Sean Gallup / Getty Images

A first-of-its-kind study has examined the satellite record to see how the climate crisis is impacting all of the planet's ice.

Read More Show Less
Probiotic rich foods. bit245 / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Ana Maldonado-Contreras

Takeaways

  • Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria that are vital for keeping you healthy.
  • Some of these microbes help to regulate the immune system.
  • New research, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, shows the presence of certain bacteria in the gut may reveal which people are more vulnerable to a more severe case of COVID-19.

You may not know it, but you have an army of microbes living inside of you that are essential for fighting off threats, including the virus that causes COVID-19.

Read More Show Less
Michael Mann photo inset by Joshua Yospyn.

By Jeff Masters, Ph.D.

The New Climate War: the fight to take back our planet is the latest must-read book by leading climate change scientist and communicator Michael Mann of Penn State University.

Read More Show Less