Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A FRAC door seen, and painted green

Environmental Defense, a gaggle of gas companies, and the University of Texas at Austin...

The news:
Drilling for shale gas through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, appears to cause smaller leaks of the greenhouse gas methane than the federal government had estimated, and considerably smaller than some critics of shale gas had feared, according to a peer-reviewed study released on Monday.
The study, conducted by theUniversity of Texas and sponsored by the Environmental Defense Fund and nine petroleum companies, bolsters the contention by advocates of fracking — and some environmental groups as well — that shale gas is cleaner and better than coal
The study’s connection to the petroleum industry — among its sponsors and financiers are Shell, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, Exxon Mobil and Chevron — may lead some to question its objectivity, some outside experts said.
Previously the news (aka "why the University of Texas at Austim"):
Industry money and questionable ethics contaminate UT Austin fracking study | Scientific American | June 24, 2012

Shale plays look like cities from space: source article
Remember that study out of The University of Texas last February that concluded there wasn’t a direct link between fracking and groundwater contamination? It caught flack for seeming to being too easy on the fracking industry by suggesting that there wasn’t a direct link between cracking shale and groundwater contamination. The study was great news for an industry fighting a PR battle over a politically-charged issue.
However, financial ties to the fracking industry were never mentioned in all of the announcements about the study, and not known until a new study put out Monday by the Public Accountability Initiative. The study’s leader, Dr. Charles “Chip” Groat has significant financial ties to the fracking industry, to the tune of a couple of million dollars.
The University released a statement, quoted in that 2012 article; "The most important asset we have as an institution is the public’s trust.  If that is in question, then that is something we need to address."
Groat left and Environmental Defense arrived shortly thereafter - trust meaning different things to different entities I guess.

I trust the oil and gas industry will get a favourable report if they order it at the University of Texas.

One of the reports the new one tends to rebut came out in early August, and sought to measure emissions quite differently:
On a perfect winter day in Utah’s Uintah County in 2012, CIRES scientists and NOAA colleagues tested out a new way to measure methane emissions from a natural gas production field. Their results, accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, constitute a proof-of-concept that could help both researchers and regulators better determine how much of the greenhouse gas and other air pollutants leak from oil and gas fields. The measurements show that on one February day in the Uintah Basin, the natural gas field leaked 6 to 12 percent of the methane produced, on average, on February days.
That's a problematic amount of leakage - less problematic if flared off

But still problematic: burning off enough gas to power all the
homes in Chicago and Washington D.C. combined
Gas flaring at Bakken and Eagle Ford | Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas | Jan. 30, 2013
In a recently released satellite image from NASA, the light being given off at the Bakken formation, almost twice the size of Wales, easily competes in intensity with that being emitted from those cities.
The volume of gas going up in flames at the plant rose by around 50 per cent last year alone in a practice that is causing growing concern about the waste of resources and the impact on the environment, according to the Financial Times.
The trend, which is being replicated in other shale regions such as Texas, has made the U.S. one of the world’s worst offenders for gas flaring after the amount it burns off has tripled in the last five years, according to World Bank estimates.
Why the support to support a process that has dropped energy prices and, reportedly, greenhouse gas emissions?

There was a stir caused by a 2011 study suggesting, "Extracting natural gas from the Marcellus Shale could do more to aggravate global warming than mining coal..."

The current worldview rejects that possibility - but it doesn't really know how to measure emissions from natural gas production.
They still don't.

The co-creator of the 2011 study has commented on the University of Texas/oil companies/Environmental Defense study:
UT methane fracking study 'fatally flawed': Cornell scientist | Platts | Sept. 17, 2013
A new report that finds methane emissions from completion operations at hydraulically fractured natural gas wells are dropping dramatically is "fatally flawed" and based on "inadequate" data, the co-author of a landmark Cornell University fracking study said Tuesday.
"They just need to go out and make more measurements," said Anthony Ingraffea, an engineering professor at Cornell and president of Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy.
Ingraffea and Robert Howarth, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist also at Cornell, in 2011 released a study that said as much as 60% more methane is leaked from a fracked natural gas well than a conventional well and that that gas may be a greater contributor to climate change than coal.
Ingraffea called the UT study a "useful start" to answering the question over how much methane is emitted during natural gas production, but said the study looked at less than 1% of total US natural gas production. The study also did not look at emissions from condensation tanks nor drilling operations...


Suggested and related: Measuring Methane Leaks from Natural Gas Drilling | The Energy Collective | Sept. 18, 2013
Largely offsetting their lower emissions estimate for well completions, Allen et al. measured a higher leak rate from pneumatic controllers and other equipment than given in EPA’s emissions inventory. The substantial emissions from pneumatic devices, 580 million metric tons according to Allen et al., make them the largest identified source of methane from the production phase of the natural gas system. EPA should move quickly to establish performance standards that will cut down on this waste and source of pollution. A mandatory leak detection and repair program could cut down on other significant emission sources measured in the study.
By bringing hard data to the table Allen et al. have made a major contribution to the debate about natural gas, but you can expect the debate to continue for lots of legitimate reasons...

Related: Fracking fans and foes trade jabs on latest study | Platts (The Barrel)

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