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Study Revises Estimate of Methane Leaks from U.S. Fracking Fields

Richard A. Lovett and Nature magazine, Scientific American
Environmental controls designed to prevent leaks of methane from newly drilled natural gas wells are effective, a study has found — but emissions from existing wells in production are much higher than previously believed…

The study was funded by a partnership of nine natural gas producers and the Environmental Defense Fund, a non-profit environmental group based in Washington DC, as part of a broad effort to trace methane leaks all the way from the wellhead to the user….
(16 September 2013)
Link to the report

Experts: Fracking Methane Leakage Study Financed by Gas Industry With Partner, EDF, is Deeply Flawed

Press Release, Physicians Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy
Anthony Ingraffea, Ph.D., Dwight C. Baum professor of engineering, Cornell University, and president, Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy (PSE), and Seth B. Shonkoff, PhD, MPH, executive director, Physicians, Scientists, & Engineers for Healthy Energy, and environmental researcher, University of California, Berkeley, issued the following statement today:

"The new gas industry/Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) study released Monday on methane gas leakage appears to be fatally flawed.

The study, "Measurements of Methane Emissions at Natural Gas Production Sites in the United States" by David T. Allen and colleagues was published yesterday in the Journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences at 3pm EST on Monday, September 16, 2013. The Environmental Defense Fund together with many oil and gas companies funded and supported this research effort.

The research bears directly on the powerful GHG/global warming effects of methane and thus the implications for regulation and continued widespread development of shale gas. But it has concluded that methane leakage at well sites, selected in time and location by industry participants, is so low as to be nearly trivial. This is a finding at odds with other researchers’ work that shows much higher rates.

Allen and colleagues conclude that upstream (at the well site) methane emissions from the natural gas industry amount to just 0.42% of gross annual domestic production of associated (oil wells) and non-associated (gas wells) natural gas. However, the study – much like its widely-criticized predecessor, (EPA/GRI 1996), which this study seems to closely follow – is based on a small sampling of hydraulically fractured wells which may not adequately represent national oil and gas activity and the variability within and across production basins.

Furthermore, the fugitive losses reported by Allen and colleagues are 10 to 20 times lower than those calculated from more complete (field-level) measurements.

A fatal flaw in the study by Allen and colleagues is that they make no attempt to discuss these conflicting results, nor do they even reference these other studies as relevant evidence to uncertainty. How might one explain this huge discrepancy in measured emissions?…
(17 September 2013)

The Oil & Gas Industry’s Fractured Fairy Tales

Elliott Negin, Huffington Post
What if I told you that a recent study found that relatively new, unconventional ways to produce oil and gas–horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking"–added an average of $1,200 to U.S. household disposable income in 2012? And that this drilling "revolution," enabling the industry to recover previously inaccessible shale reserves, supported 2.1 million jobs last year and is projected to support 3.3 million by 2020?

Sounds pretty good, no?

But what if I told you that the study not only exaggerates the number of fracking-related jobs, but also that it was funded by the oil and gas industry’s trade association–the American Petroleum Institute (API)–along with, among others, the American Chemistry Council, America’s Natural Gas Alliance, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Natural Gas Supply Association, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce?

Maybe you wouldn’t be as impressed.

What is most egregious about this self-serving study, however, is that it tells only half of the story. What’s missing are oil and gas’s considerable drawbacks, notably their impact on public health, the environment and the climate. It’s analogous to a tobacco industry-funded study claiming a new type of cigarette created new jobs and saved smokers money without mentioning the obvious associated health costs.

Does it matter that this study–the third in a series by the consulting firm IHS Global Insight–is so one-sided? Certainly. News organizations have already reported its findings uncritically, and it bolsters the industry’s cred in Washington, giving the industry’s friends on Capitol Hill another weapon to fight against stricter controls on shale drilling.

Kyle Isakower, API’s vice president for policy and economic analysis, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that a study by a firm of IHS’s stature should impress government officials. "It’s important for us," he said, "that we’ve got credible data to help educate policymakers about energy policy."

Credible data? Let’s do a reality check…

Elliott Negin is the director of news and commentary at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
(23 September 2013)

Drilling rig Wyoming via shutterstock. Reproduced at with permission.