Study Sheds Light on Truth Of Methane and Drilling

Study Sheds Light on Truth Of Methane and Drilling

The question of whether natural gas is a ‘clean’ fuel is hotly debated amongst food columnists and the current U.S. Secretary of Energy alike.  The debate has been fueled by scientific uncertainty; measuring methane emissions has been difficult because data is hard to obtain.

But a new study released last week by the University of Texas (UT) and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), addresses this challenge head-on. In the most comprehensive shale gas emission study ever undertaken, the researchers found that extracting gas from shale is being done in a sustainable, environmentally friendly fashion.  The study found that 99 percent of methane emissions have been captured, and emissions are a full 97 percent lower than the EPA’s initial estimates released in 2011.

The UT-EDF team surveyed nine participating companies, which collectively drilled roughly half of all natural gas wells in 2011.  Measurements were taken from 190 production sites throughout the United States.  The samples were taken directly at well pads performing hydraulic fracturing to determine the total amount of methane emitted from natural gas production operations (also referred to as ‘completions’).  Using this methodology, the authors found that at wells with the right equipment in place, companies were able to capture virtually all methane emissions.

The peer-reviewed UT-EDT analysis is superior to previous methane studies that based results on engineering calculations and data gathered from flights over drilling sites, which are subject to conjecture.  By acquiring direct measurements of methane emissions from natural gas production operations where hydraulic fracturing is used, the researchers have increased confidence in the data.  The data clearly demonstrate that industry commitment and green completion technology is working.

With substantial proven reserves left to tap, natural gas production should continue to grow for years to come.  But policymakers and regulators must take steps to ensure that U.S. natural gas remains a competitive and financially attractive resource to develop.

One way to do this is for the DOE to speed up the approval process for pending applications for licenses to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) to non-FTA countries such as Japan, a prime customer.

And given the results of this study, natural gas should not just been seen as a ‘bridge fuel’ but rather as a sustainable source of energy, which provides a path forward to more energy independence, more jobs, enhanced trade security, and a greener world.

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