Environmental Protection

New Study Measures Methane Emissions

A research team led by the University of Texas at Austin is conducting a major field study to measure the methane emissions produced from natural gas production. The study is expected to be completed by Jan. 13, 2013.

The study seeks to estimate the methane emission rates from participating companies' natural gas production by conducting direct measurement techniques at a sample of natural gas production sites. Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas that can be released into the atmosphere during natural gas production, processing and transportation. A greater understanding of the amount of methane emitted into the atmosphere can better inform sound policies and management of emissions from well sites.

Large amounts of natural gas are now domestically available because of dramatic advancements in technology. Tapping these resources creates significant economic and energy security benefits for the nation. Natural gas also burns substantially cleaner than other fossil fuels, and increased use of shale natural gas in power generation is helping reduce U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. However, some reports have raised questions about the overall effect of natural gas usage on total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions because of widely varying assumptions concerning the potential emissions of methane during the extraction and production processes.

The study is unique in that it brings multiple, key stakeholders to the table to make measurements of emissions at the well-pad. If we want natural gas to be an accepted part of a strategy for improving energy security and moving to a clean energy future, it is critical for all of us to work together to quantify and reduce methane emissions as may be appropriate. Such a strategy could yield enormous environmental and health benefits," said Mark Brownstein, chief counsel to EDF's national energy program and head of EDF's natural gas efforts.

Field measurements for the study began in May and will continue through early fall. The major focus of the field work is quantifying emissions from well completions, gas well liquid unloading,well work overs and other routine well-site fugitive emissions. Six academic experts in fields relevant to the study are acting as independent advisers for the study. Final results of the study will be published in a peer-reviewed journal and made publically available.

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