Yves here. Fracking skeptics have been concerned about methane releases, since methane is a vastly more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. This report is particularly grim and calls the entire case for shale gas into question.
By Nick Cunningham, a Washington DC-based writer on energy and environmental issues. You can follow him on twitter at @nickcunningham1. Originally posted at OilPrice
A major new study finds that methane emissions from the production of shale gas may in fact be higher than previously thought. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on November 25, casts into doubt the notion that natural gas produces half as much greenhouse gas pollution as coal. Natural gas has been embraced by many, including President Obama, as a centerpiece of America’s climate change plan.
Methane can be released from natural gas wells during the drilling process. Scientists have thus far had difficulty measuring these “fugitive methane emissions” precisely, with competing studies stirring controversy. The latest report, published by a group of 15 scientists, found that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is significantly underestimating the amount of methane released during natural gas production. Specifically, the report concludes that fugitive methane emissions could be 50% higher than EPA estimates.
The findings could put pressure on state environmental regulators as well as the U.S. EPA to draw up new regulations, according to Dan Lashof of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Methane is a powerful climate change pollutant, and the study gives greater impetus to the EPA and states to establish stronger standards to reduce leaks from the oil and gas system,” he said in an interview. Similarly, Dan Grossman of the Environmental Defense Fund told NPR in an interview last week, “[w]e think that other states will look at what we were able to accomplish here and replicate it.”
If the latest figures are accurate, it could mean that the greenhouse gas advantage that natural gas has over coal could be a mirage. The Energy Information Administration estimates that U.S. carbon dioxide emissions declined 12% since 2007, citing natural gas supplanting coal as a major reason. That number does not account for methane emissions however.
Colorado is leading the charge in regulating methane, as its air quality regulators recently proposed rules that would require tougher standards at drilling sites. The rules would force operators to use infrared cameras to detect leaks; conduct inspections of pipelines, tanks, and other equipment on a monthly basis; and observe stricter limits when operating near residential communities. No other state has enacted rules that target methane pollution.
The regulations in Colorado enjoy the support of several key industry players, including Anadarko, Encana, and Noble Energy. They agreed to the regulations because of public pressure to do so. State elections in early November saw four Colorado communities ban hydraulic fracturing. Oil and gas companies hope that by cooperating with regulators, they can quell opposition to drilling. Still, they caution that compliance with the rules will cost up to $80 million a year due to required inspections. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment estimated the annual cost would only reach $30 million.
And how do you get methane out of the atmosphere? Didn’t Chris Hedges mention the possibility of the air spontaneously catching fire at some point? At least some low altitude CO2 can be mitigated by scrubbers and by restoring forests; turn our farmbelt into a forest belt. It would be an energy intensive process to pressurize methane and turn it into a solid, like dry ice, so that wouldn’t pay off. We are our own victims here, victims of our obsession with going places, mobilitly… victims of our nutty desire to escape.
I don’t know that you get “get methane out” of the atmosphere, but in roughly 20 years it degrades to Carbon and Hydrogen, reacting to form CO2 and H2O, with the H2O cycling out in the water vapor cycle in a matter of days, and the CO2 cycling out in the CO2 cycle in more like a century. So Methane has its multiplier effect for about 20 years after which is has the impact of CO2.
You could get the CO2 out of the atmosphere, if, for instance, you raised coppice wood or switchgrass, converted it to biochar, and buried it to improve the productivity of marginal lands.
This is naive. All that really matters, with respect to fracking, is money money money and jobs jobs jobs. No one in a position to make a difference really cares about methane or global warming or any of that. They’re happy to give it lip service, sure, but they’re not about to turn their backs on all that money, and the politicians badly need those jobs. So forget it.
The issue is not methane– it is water. Fracking pollutes aquifers in ways which are not well understood. We can live without petrochemicals, but not without water.
Water is the new gold, or will soon will be.
You mean fracking has been polluting aquifers for 63 years, and geologists don’t understand why? Got any links?
The damage done to potable water and aquifers by shale gas extraction has in fact been widely reported in the US. This is hardly a controversial statement. The onus is on YOU to provide links to your claims, that fracking is safe and does not damage or imperil water supplies. In fact, the use of copious amounts of water ALONE to pump into shale gas wells to provide pressure to lift the shale gas is a significant environmental cost, before you get to the damage/contamination of aquifers.
And a quick Google would have shown that:
Conventional oil extraction is completely different than shale oil extraction. Trying to conflate the two is disingenuous. I don’t have much tolerance for intellectual dishonesty here.
Yves, here is an illustration of what we’re talking about that shows the vertical and horizontal drilling:
I think it is completely irresponsible to use drinking water (they casually tap into the aquifer on the way down) to frack. Potable drinking water is NOT the only liquid possible; it’s plain plucking laziness on the part of operators to use it as if it were an endless resource, and there should be state laws that preclude its use; the state is in a far better situation to control these guys than the Feds. Deep formation water (brine), hauled-in (imported) sea water, recycled fluids, liquid CO2, NO, and other things like a propane/butane mix are perfectly acceptable to accomplish the same thing. So why aren’t the operators doing it? Cost and making the damn effort.
But that doesn’t obviate the fact that they’ve been fracking for decades. My underlying point is that we should all know how the processes really work so that we don’t make wild hyperbolic claims that the operators will ignore, and will convince state legislators to ignore as well.
There is absolutely no reason why drinking water has to be used.
I don’t know how much you know about water use in America, but unlike the UK, where I’ve read that water is reused as much as 7X, we don’t reuse water much. So your statement, “Oh they should have used other water” is STILL spurious. You aren’t going to find the millions of gallons needed for shale gas wells from nearby municipal recycled water or industrial sites. Transportation costs money and water is costly to transport. The discussions of shale gas fracking I’ve seen all refer to water and not the use of liquified gas (and what are the energy costs of getting it cold enough?). Given the inland location of pretty much all shale gas, the only option on your list that looks viable is deep brine, and I’ve got no idea how often there is deep brine near enough to a shale gas site for it to be a good solution.
And even with shale gas extraction alone, we’ve seen earthquakes attributed to them. Extracting deep brine would probably have at least as bad, if not worse, geological impact as draining/contaminating aquifers.
Talk to any small farmer withing a couple miles of fracking sites in Pennsylvania. They’ll tell you how their farm ponds are disappearing at an alarming rate.
The water thing is what’s going to do fracking in eventually, not the methane.
Sure! And then all we have to do is filter the groundwater. I’d call that win-win!
Oh, I can give you one reason for drinking water; for all the blather about usable groundwater being unaffected, it often is. If the primary component is something totally undrinkable like brine or some exotic liquid, the involved company will get caught faster. If they’re using a mix of undisclosed chemicals in ordinary water, it may take a while to detect a problem and even longer to assign blame.
A subtle and excellent point: “If they’re using a mix of undisclosed chemicals in ordinary water, it may take a while to detect a problem and even longer to assign blame.”
Because if you don’t know what to test for you don’t know what tests to run.
But the fracking formulas are trade secrets.
One obvious legislative approach would to force their disclosure. PA has such a law — but exempts trade secrets and puts doctors under a “gag law” to forbid them from sharing information!
“There is absolutely no reason why drinking water has to be used.” Well, except for the profit motive and an absence of meaningful regulation, of course.
Methane is not that big a problem. It disappears all by itself in less than 10 years and becomes CO2 instead.
Anthropogenic methane production is significant, but small.
You can read all about it (or at least a lot, with references) here.
Better trolls, please.
Methane is anywhere from 25 to 100X as potent a greenhouse gas as CO2. The release of methane played a significant role in Permian-Triassic mass dieoff:
And re your claim that humans play no large role in methane releases, it’s the incremental change that counts. Humans are responsible for a major source, which is industrial beef. And your source clearly does not include the methane estimates from the study cited in this post.
Yves, a peer-reviewed paper in Nature is a better source than Wikipedia.
You can read the whole thing at the link; written in English. ;-) Has illustrations.
How much are you being paid for this? One article is hardly proof.
First, Wikipedia links to a second Wikipedia entry which has many citations, including (gasp) other articles from Nature! There are some articles that are on both side of the marine clathrates question, but there is a good bit of Russian research on the role of methane releases from Arctic permafrost in the P-T dieoff. The notion that arctic methane releases played a significant role in the P-T dieoff appears uncontroversial; the debate is over whether it might have led to a very rapid increase.
Oh, and the same Nature published a more recent article which reaches the exact opposite conclusion of the article you cited. It’s prospective, hence the consternation over it:
I must also note that the article above, published only in July, has been cited 7 times already, while the 2011 article has been cited 11 times. It thus has a higher “m quotient,” one of the metrics used to measure how influential a paper is.
Climate science: Vast costs of Arctic change
Gail Whiteman, Chris Hope & Peter Wadhams
Nature 499, 401–403 (25 July 2013) doi:10.1038/499401a
Published online 24 July 2013
Methane released by melting permafrost will have global impacts that must be better modelled, say Gail Whiteman, Chris Hope and Peter Wadhams.
And here is Dr. Judith Curry, chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, on Wadhams paper, which generated a lot of debate last summer:
So what happened this year?
And here are more scientists responding to Wadham’s paper at the Carbon Brief as reported by Dr. Curry at the link above:
..Wadhams points out that none of the scientists rejecting his scenario understand the unique mechanism currently at play in the Arctic, and all were citing research preceding the empirical evidence which unearthed this mechanism – which has only become clear in recent years in the context of the rapid loss of summer sea ice.
While Wadhams refers directly to an actual empirical phenomenon unique to the Arctic seabed resulting in unprecedented methane venting – uncovered by Dr Natalia Shakhova and Dr Igor Semiletov of the International Arctic Research Center – the critics refer instead to general theoretical dynamics of methane release but show little awareness of what’s actually going on in the north pole:
“The mechanism which is causing the observed mass of rising methane plumes in the East Siberian Sea is itself unprecedented and hence it is not surprising that various climate scientists, none of them Arctic specialists, failed to spot it. What is actually happening is that the summer sea ice now retreats so far, and for so long each summer, that there is a substantial ice-free season over the Siberian shelf, sufficient for solar irradiance to warm the surface water by a significant amount – up to 7C according to satellite data.
That warming extends the 50 m or so to the seabed because we are dealing with only a polar surface water layer here (over the shelves the Arctic Ocean structure is one-layer rather than three layers) and the surface warming is mixed down by wave-induced mixing because the extensive open water permits large fetches.
So long as some ice persisted on the shelf, the water mass was held to about 0C in summer because any further heat content in the water column was used for melting the ice underside. But once the ice disappears, as it has done, the temperature of the water can rise significantly, and the heat content reaching the seabed can melt the frozen sediments at a rate that was never before possible. The authors who so confidently dismiss the idea of extensive methane release are simply not aware of the new mechanism that is causing it.”
Wadhams thus describes the previous research dismissing the methane threat by Rupple and others as “rendered obsolete by the Semiletov/Shakhova field experiments – the seeing – and the mechanism described above.”
So far, cutting edge peer-reviewed research on the link between Arctic permafrost melt and methane release has received no attention from these critics. Indeed, their offhand dismissals are based on ignoring the potential implications of the specific empirical evidence on the ESAS emerging over the last few years, which challenges the assumptions of conventional modelling.
Horrific amounts of methane over Laptev Sea
Why is “fracking” in the title of this article? Has it just become a scare word? Methane can be released during drilling, says the article. OK. The article doesn’t mention fracking, though, so why is the word in the title?
Because it’s the informal term for “the production of shale gas,” and most readers will recognize it, so kwitcherbellyachin’.
Indeed. For all intents and purposes, they might as well call it “fracking” because that has become the dominant feature of the drilling.
Fracking is not part of the drilling; fracking follows the drilling. The drilling is done so the fracking can be done.
I notice that above Yves refers to water being pumped down the well to provide pressure to lift the gas; that is one I’ve never seen before and that’s just as well because it’s flat wrong. Fracking means pumping water under great pressure down natural-gas or oil wells in order to fracture the rock around horizontal well bores that head out from the main vertical hole. The fractures are produced in order to intersect natural fractures, already there, and which contain the gas or oil the drillers are after. It’s not pure water that’s used; it contains proppants to keep the fractures open and bactericides and acids and slickers and other goop. What the water is not there to do is to provide pressure to lift the gas up the well. Several thousand feet down, there’s plenty of pressure to take care of that.
Fracking has been used for decades but has become controversial in recent years. Controversy is fine, but the very first step is to get the facts straight so the arguments have foundation in fact. Otherwise the result is noise.
They’ve been fracking oil wells since the 1950s; it’s a standard procedure. Why haven’t these dangers shown up before now?
Oil is in different geological structures than shale gas.
Primary oil extraction takes place without fracking. By contrast, you need fracking to extract shale gas.
And I’ll defer to From Mexico, but I’d bet fracking is a much less preferred method of seconary/tertiary oil extraction.
They use it to close the well, Yves. SOP.
How long are you going to persist in dishonest argumentation? I could just as easily say, “an operation is no big deal” when an operation can consist of anything from the removal of a cyst in a doctor’s office to brain surgery.
What you are referring, as I stated above, is fracking related to conventional oil production. Fracking used for shale gas extraction is based on new techniques developed in the last 10 years AND have radically different impacts on water supplies. Hence your claim “oh this is 60 years old, nothing to see here” is an inaccurate and dishonest claim:
However, advancements in technology and new uses have greatly expanded in recent years. For example, multistage fracking within a horizontal well has only widely been used in the last decade. The recent improvements in technology have allowed companies to extract oil and gas resources from areas that were previously inaccessible. The new applications of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have led to a boom in “unconventional” oil and gas production. ….
While the technique of hydraulic fracturing is quite similar in conventional and unconventional reservoirs, drilling in unconventional formations has unique conditions not typical of conventionally completed wells. This drilling is deeper and requires substantially more fresh water (millions of gallons rather than 50-100,000 gallons), greater volumes of chemicals, and produces larger quantities of wastewater.
… not to mention the extent of wells fracked. Which was miniscule until the mid-2000’s.
I think it’s best to work through the claims one by one:
claim 1: “They’ve been fracking oil wells since the 1950s; it’s a standard procedure.”
ANSWER: They’ve been fracking oil and gas wells since the late 1940s.
claim 2: “Why haven’t these dangers shown up before now?”
ANSWER: a) Because the first frac jobs in conventional reservoirs were only a few thousand gallons. Now the average frac job, in the Eagle Ford Shale formation for instance, is 6 to 6.5 million gallons.
“Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Resources: Separating the Frack from the Fiction”
b) The number of wells of wells needed to develop shale resource plays is far greater than the number of wells needed to develop conventional plays.
“The Shale Oil Boom: A U.S. Phenomenon”
claim 3: “Oil is in different geological structures than shale gas.”
ANSWER: No. A wonderful illustration of this is the following map of the Eagle Ford Shale, where one can see the same reservoir changes from one which produces dry gas in its southern reaches, to wet gas/condensate in the center, and finally to oil in the northern reaches.
claim 4: “Primary oil extraction takes place without fracking. By contrast, you need fracking to extract shale gas.”
ANSWER: NO. Frac jobs are used in both conventional oil and gas reservoirs, and both shale oil and gas reservoirs.
The reason shale gas became an issue sooner is because the first shale plays were in gas reservoirs. Development of the first of these, the Barnett Shale near the Dallas/Fort Worth MSA, began in earnest in 2001. Development of the first of the shale oil plays, the Bakken Three-Forks in North Dakota, didn’t get kicked off until 2007, and the Eagle Ford not until 2010. The other major shale oil play is in the Permian Basin, and didn’t get kicked off until last year.
Also location might have to have something to do with it. The Barnett Shale engulfs the Dallas/Fort Worth MSA. The Marcellus Shale is in densely populated Pennsylvania and New York.
The Bakken, on the other hand, is off in bumfu*k North Dakota. Likewise the Eagle Ford is down in bumfu*k South Texas, and the Permian Basin is also in a very sparsely populated area.
claim 5: “They use it [fracing] to close the well, Yves. SOP.”
ANSWER: No. They use cement and cast-iron bridge plugs to plug a well.
Fracking has gone horizontal lately as you well know, increasing its effectiveness in extraction and changing the landscape (literally!). So to compare what happened from 1950 to 2000 to what’s happening in the past 15 years is comparing apples and oranges.
This is why we need less regulation, because then the free market can prevent global warming, with bitcoins.
Or something. I didn’t get my daily talking points memo from the American Enterprise Institute today, so I’m having to wing it here. Look, I gotta make a living, you know?
The potent greenhouse gas methane (CH4) is given short shrift in climate science, and that’s not even considering the methane hydrate or permafrost thaw issues. In fact, sustained methane levels from microbe-generated methane (microbial methanogenesis) could dwarf an Arctic methane hydrate pulse from the East Siberian Shelf.
As horrible as it is, fracking is still better than nuclear. After I found out that it was putting nuclear plants out of business I became a whole-hearted supporter of fracking.
Fracking is a pump and dump securitization real estate scam, realize profit now, bag holders own the legacy costs.
It givith and takith too – An East Coast oil boom has promised potential riches to lucky landowners. But the oil rush may cause big headaches for some unlucky banks.
At least three institutions — Tompkins Financial (TMP) in Ithaca, N.Y., Spain’s Santander Bank and State Employees’ Credit Union in Raleigh, N.C. — are refusing to make mortgages on land where oil or gas rights have been sold to an energy company.
skippy… its like Russian roulette with a full clip full auto assault weapon. BTW what happened to the local organic farming JGordon.
Definition of tiresome:
False dichotomous choices like fracking or nuclear fallout wrapped in a neoliberal layer of TINA or Crisis.
We probably can’t bottom the fracking debate, but this paper at least shows how we are “rationally” deciding.
I side with Yves, but sitting on top of the UK Bowland Basin I know the debate isn’t really happening. A 10% extraction here will provide UK needs for 40 years. Game over in our public opinion.
Practically all that is left to the individual citizen, apart from environmental activism at the risk of being arrested and charged with “domestic terrorism”, is to curtail one’s use of fossil fuels, which includes reducing our consumption of everything.
I am doing this by riding a bicycle or public transit for almost all trips, using very little electricity, eating less meat, and following Reverend Billy’s invocation to “stop shopping” (bless him). Let’s get the word out.
Recent methane bursts in the East Siberian Sea have resulted in 2000ppb, which is equivalent to over 200ppm CO2 in the short-term, making the total global CO2 equivalence 600ppm (at least). The extraordinarily high concentration of greenhouse gases has resulted in rapid temperature increases in the Arctic (up around 1C since 2006, despite the huge amount of energy involved in melting ice.).
It’s as simple of this: every well fracked uses up to eight or even ten million gallons of water. That water is contaminated with tons of chemicals, along with naturally occurring toxins and radioactivity it picks up along the way. Some of the water comes back up; some of stays down under the ground. All of it is contaminated forever.
We are contaminating billions of gallons of water for fracking; and injecting it all right under our own communities. The fact that this toxic ocean is injected somewhat deeply in the ground is of no comfort to rational, non-pathological people. That’s the reality of fracking.
The notion that fracking has been going on for decades is a red herring – quite simply a blatant and shameless misrepresentation.
I always just dumb is down to the concrete sleeves
1. gas – mixture – application related failures on first pour.
2. number of sleeves is meaningless as its – always – down to the last sleeve (see #1)
3. Regulatory capture by financially backed political puppets.
4. Independent confirmation of compliance failure (self regulating BS)
Skippy… last but not least – some decades plus wells, here down under, are collapsing around the OD of the sleeve. Guess who gets the bill for rectifying that… the land owner.
Got any links on that, Skippy? That’s great stuff.
The public pays to deal with failing mines, with uranium tailings, with nuclear waste, and with a variety of other industry toxic wastelands where the profit extraction entity has long since packed up and left town.
And so we will pay to deal with the wells. Yet another superfund program.
What the hell we are going to do with a trillion gallons of contaminated water is anybody’s guess. But I willing to guess we’ll spend close to a trillion to deal with it.
Fundamentally, both the general populace and the ruling elites are alienated from what we call the natural world. When the elites, with smoke and mirrors, can make it appear that they are pursuing environmentally friendly policies the public won’t look too deeply into the policy and everyone is happy–business as usual.
Remember all the dumbshits that bought pets.com at the peak on margin and got ruined? They got replaced by new dumbshits who flipped houses and got ruined. And now we have a fresh crop of dumbshits leasing plays with the lifespan of a mayfly and IRRs that depend solely on the whims of four demand-suckled Saudi princelings. These dumbshits too will be ruined.
However, the next generation of dumbshits will replicate the corrupt poisoned wasteland of the Niger delta in several backward states where they’re inordinately proud of being white, so that will be kind of fun to watch. Then they will give the cockroaches the big chance they’ve been waiting for, to grow six feet tall and rule the earth. And who can deny it’s time for a change?
Alas, the damage is not limited to red state wastelands.
And may well be coming to a watershed near you…
Methane only persists about 10 years in the atmosphere.
If fracking were to stop today, the methane would be quickly fade away. CO2 on the other hand… 200 years probably.
Please see above, methane converts to CO2 in more like 20 years and the estimates of its greater potency allow for that.