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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Record leaks of methane from oil shale boom areas

A methane leakage rate above 3.2 percent may negate the fuel's climate benefits in the power plant, scientists say. And in such a case, gas will be as bad as coal.

"Oil and gas basins in North Dakota and East Texas leaked around 10 percent of natural gas they produced to the atmosphere between 2006 and 2011. Natural gas is composed primarily of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that exacerbates climate change. Considering that North Dakota's Bakken Shale produced 485 million cubic feet per day of gas in September 2011, a 10 percent leak adds up to a whole lot of greenhouse gas emissions. The Eagle Ford of East Texas produced 1,232 million cubic feet of gas per day in 2011. The leakage rates were published this month in the journal Earth's Future. The leakage rate in the study is the largest reported so far for the energy industry, and it challenged the industry's and U.S. EPA's perception of operations as relatively clean.

The study finds that the Bakken and Eagle Ford basins leaked between 3 percent and 17 percent of the natural gas produced between 2009 and 2011, with the Bakken most likely emitting 10.1 percent and the Eagle Ford most likely emitting 9.1 percent. For the study, scientists used satellite measurements and a unique methodology to compute the methane leakage rate, which is one of the key unknowns about energy usage in the United States today. The United States is in the middle of an oil and gas boom since 2005, and the Obama administration has promoted natural gas as a bridge fuel to a post-carbon future. The reasoning is that gas emits only half as much carbon dioxide as coal when burned in a power plant.

But scientists have pointed out that gas may also be bad for the climate, not because of its carbon dioxide emissions but because of its methane emissions. The greenhouse gas is 86 times as potent as carbon dioxide for the climate on a 20-year time scale. The gas leaks from wellheads, valves, tanks, pipes, processing plants and other parts of the energy supply chain."