Damascus Methane Baseline – damascus citizens for sustainability

Damascus Methane Baseline – damascus citizens for sustainability.

Orphaned Well Being Plugged In Sullivan County

Orphaned Well Being Plugged In Sullivan County.

Destroying Precious Land to Drill for Gas – NYTimes.com

Destroying Precious Land to Drill for Gas – NYTimes.com.

Living on Earth: Rampant City Gas Leaks

Living on Earth: Rampant City Gas Leaks.

Study: Airborne methane plume found near Bradford County gas migration site – News – The Times-Tribune

Study: Airborne methane plume found near Bradford County gas migration site – News – The Times-Tribune.

Methane Leakage from Shale Gas Drilling: An Update

Methane Leakage from Shale Gas Drilling: An Update.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Julian Silk

A recent New York Times article by Andrew Revkin, in his “Dot Earth” column, surveyed the controversy over methane gas leakage from shale gas drilling.  He has updated his original article in “A Fresh Scientific Defense of the Merits of Moving from Coal to Shale Gas”, February 29, 2012.  The Journal of Geophysical Research article cited is by Gabrielle Pétron et al, “Hydrocarbon emissions characterization in the Colorado Front Range: A pilot study”.  A valuable description of the study is at http://cires.colorado.edu/news/press/2012/Colorado_oil.html.  The latest argument from Howarth et al is “Venting and leaking of methane from shale gas development: response to Cathles et al., Climatic Change, 01 February 2012.

The issue will become important in the U.S. shortly, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is scheduled to release regulations concerning methane leakage for shale gas drilling on April 3rd.  EC/R Inc., an environmental consulting firm (see http://www.ecrweb.com/), will be an important partner in the development of the regulations.

The following is an attempt to update the controversy and to provide some additional sources on it.  Both Mr. Howarth and Mr. Cathles have been very helpful as well.  It is not possible to make a definitive judgment about who is right.  Several of the comments below will be seen to disagree with Mr. Howarth, but he deserves great credit for bringing the problem to public attention.

Duke University and Resources for the Future (RFF) are both attempting to quantify the problem.  See especially Stephen Osborn et al, “Methane contamination of drinking water accompanying gas-well drilling and hydraulic fracturing”, at http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2011/05/02/1100682108 and http://www.rff.org/ceep.  The Proceedings of the National Academy have a number of articles on gas leakage, the latest being Rebecca Rooney et al, “Oil sands mining and reclamation cause massive loss of peatland and stored carbon”, which is online at http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/03/06/1117693108.

Certain items stand out immediately upon inspection.  On Mr. Howarth’s web site, as of this writing, there are links to FLIR footage of Marcellus drilling.  (FLIR is a company that makes thermal imaging cameras that are widely used to view gas leaks, including those of sulfur hexafluoride, SF6, the most potent greenhouse gas, from substations.)  The Marcellus videos do show venting occurs, in contrast to a claim that they do not, and that the gas is buoyant.  The videos are very careful to make it clear to the reader that they are not trying to make quantitative claims.  But a useful counterpoint should be provided by FLIR videos of gas flaring.  It is not necessary to travel to Nigeria to get such videos.  There is ongoing gas flaring in the Bakken Shale; for this, see http://www.theoildrum.com/node/8610for flaring in North Dakota, Russia (which seems to be the worst offender), Africa and the Middle East.   EIA has a report on North Dakota flaring as well in its “Today in Energy” for November 23, 2011.

This is a symptom of what may be much more general: the impact of stranded gas on methane leakage.  It is possible that in the areas where natural gas is not near pipelines or gas plants is leaked, since the costs of operation and maintenance necessary to minimize the leaks are not covered by the additional revenues gained.  If correct, this hypothesis would imply leakage would be less because of economic factors, all else equal, in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations than for those in the American west, and this can be tested.  In the U.S., leasing and legal terms vary from formation to formation.  Maciej Rygiel suggests that Polish shale, seemingly one of the world’s richest shale gas prospects, has high percentage clay content, and that the clay content has been a factor in delaying drilling.  Although the fracturing may be more expensive as a result, so that there is a financial difference in exploiting fields, there is no leakage differential.

It could also be thought the issue could be decided by insurance payments, that leakage of the magnitude claimed by Howarth et al could be identified as an insurance risk and detected by high insurance payments or by the assumption of high risks of the insurer for the shale gas developer.  An industry source, who asked not to be named, stated in response, that “In reality, venting gas in substantial quantities on a well site is a safety risk first and foremost, and venting the sort of volumes assumed by Howarth’s group wouldn’t be insurable at any price except under very specific circumstances”.  The source does not dispute that venting does take place, and agrees that human factors are crucial in what amount is vented, but does argue that the magnitudes assumed would be dangerous and uneconomic.  It would thus be desirable for those supporting the Howarth et al findings to explain how insurers could profitably operate with shale gas developers under those circumstances.

Howarth et al do explicitly discuss the economics of gas capture.  A partial quotation of this argument is merited:  “According to EPA (2011b), the break-even price at which the cost of capturing the gas equals the market value of the captured gas is slightly under $4 per thousand cubic feet … There is also substantial uncertainty in the cost of capturing the gas.  At least for low-energy wells, a BP presentation put the cost of ‘green’ cleanouts as 30% higher than for normal well completions (Smith 2008).  The value of the captured gas would roughly pay for the process, according to BP, at the price of gas as of 2008, or approximately $6.50 per thousand cubic feet (EIA 2011a)”.  The problem with this argument is that it does not distinguish between “wet” shale gas fields (which contain natural gas liquids) and dry fields which don’t.  Oil prices would seem to be the primary determinant for wet field development, and the developers will capture the gas if required by regulation and if oil prices are high enough.

There is also the issue of how much reduced emissions completion (REC) equipment is actually being used.  On this see the memorandum by Harvey Consulting (pages 18-27 of 185) in the submission by Center for Biological Diversity et al at http://www.earthworksaction.org/files/publications/COMMENTS-Joint-request-for-EPA-to-keep-methane-emissions-estimates.pdf.  This is a dispute whether 92% of well completions are controlled by REC equipment are controlled with REC equipment, as stated by the American Natural Gas Association, vs. EPA’s estimate of 15%.  Harvey argues that EPA’s estimate is on the conservative end of the spectrum, but appears to argue that it is the right order of magnitude.

Harvey is surely right in its assessment, and it would be desirable to have accurate national data on this point.  RECs are also discussed in http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2012/03/18/142327/as-natural-gas-production-grows.html.  But these will depend on the use of enclosed tanks instead of lined pits (which are becoming more common in any case), and will greatly be speeded by regulation.

Shale gas developers have already lost the battle for minimal regulation.  Dana Sasarean et al., MSCI ESG Research, “Shale Gas and Hydraulic Fracturing in the US: Opportunity or Underestimated Risk”, October 2011, at http://www.msci.com/resources/pdfs/Unconventional%20Oil%20%20Gas_Article_October%202011.pdf makes this brutally clear, with detailed examination of performance by company.  The immediate alternative to shale gas development is not high taxes – these are politically infeasible, especially in the U.S. but probably elsewhere as well – but a slowdown in the conversion of coal generation to natural gas.  This would increase the price of coal with low methane emissions when mined, including possibly Powder River Basin and South American and Asian coals.  In the presence of these possibly unpalatable alternatives, for both sides, there is room for a deal.

Monday, April 2nd, 2012, by admin and is filed under “Natural Gas “. You can leave a response here, or send a Trackback from your own site.

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Gas Industry Fracking Study So Biased It’s Useless « EcoWatch: Uniting the Voice of the Grassroots Environmental Movement

Gas Industry Fracking Study So Biased It’s Useless « EcoWatch: Uniting the Voice of the Grassroots Environmental Movement.

New Anti-Fracking Film by Gasland’s Josh Fox Targets Cuomo: ‘Governor, What Color Will the Sky Be Over New York?’ | Jeff Goodell | Politics News | Rolling Stone

New Anti-Fracking Film by Gasland’s Josh Fox Targets Cuomo: ‘Governor, What Color Will the Sky Be Over New York?’ | Jeff Goodell | Politics News | Rolling Stone.

 

Greater focus needed on methane leakage from natural gas infrastructure

Greater focus needed on methane leakage from natural gas infrastructure.   Fulltext

Natural gas is seen by many as the future of American energy: a fuel
that can provide energy independence and reduce greenhouse gas
emissions in the process. However, there has also been confusion about
the climate implications of increased use of natural gas for electric
power and transportation. We propose and illustrate the use of
technology warming potentials as a robust and transparent way to
compare the cumulative radiative forcing created by alternative
technologies fueled by natural gas and oil or coal by using the best
available estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from each fuel cycle
(i.e., production, transportation and use). We find that a shift to
compressed natural gas vehicles from gasoline or diesel vehicles leads
to greater radiative forcing of the climate for 80 or 280 yr,
respectively, before beginning to produce benefits. Compressed natural
gas vehicles could produce climate benefits on all time frames if the
well-to-wheels CH4 leakage were capped at a level 45–70% below current
estimates. By contrast, using natural gas instead of coal for electric
power plants can reduce radiative forcing immediately, and reducing
CH4 losses from the production and transportation of natural gas would
produce even greater benefits. There is a need for the natural gas
industry and science community to help obtain better emissions data
and for increased efforts to reduce methane leakage in order to
minimize the climate footprint of natural gas.

Greater focus needed on methane leakage from natural gas infrastructure

Greater focus needed on methane leakage from natural gas infrastructure.

Natural gas is seen by many as the future of American energy: a fuel
that can provide energy independence and reduce greenhouse gas
emissions in the process. However, there has also been confusion about
the climate implications of increased use of natural gas for electric
power and transportation. We propose and illustrate the use of
technology warming potentials as a robust and transparent way to
compare the cumulative radiative forcing created by alternative
technologies fueled by natural gas and oil or coal by using the best
available estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from each fuel cycle
(i.e., production, transportation and use). We find that a shift to
compressed natural gas vehicles from gasoline or diesel vehicles leads
to greater radiative forcing of the climate for 80 or 280 yr,
respectively, before beginning to produce benefits. Compressed natural
gas vehicles could produce climate benefits on all time frames if the
well-to-wheels CH4 leakage were capped at a level 45–70% below current
estimates. By contrast, using natural gas instead of coal for electric
power plants can reduce radiative forcing immediately, and reducing
CH4 losses from the production and transportation of natural gas would
produce even greater benefits. There is a need for the natural gas
industry and science community to help obtain better emissions data
and for increased efforts to reduce methane leakage in order to
minimize the climate footprint of natural gas.