UT directs study to measure emissions from gas production

A research team led by the University of Texas at Austin and including engineering and environmental testing firms URS and Aerodyne Research is conducting a field study to measure methane emissions from natural gas production.

The study brings together representatives from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), UT, and nine gas producers: Anadarko Petroleum Corp., BG Group PLC, Chevron Corp., Encana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc., Pioneer Natural Resources Co., Shell, Southwestern Energy Co., Talisman Energy USA Inc., and ExxonMobil Corp. subsidiary XTO Energy Inc.

Scheduled for completion in January 2013, the study seeks to estimate the methane emission rates from participating companies' gas production, including hydraulically fractured wells, by conducting direct measurement techniques at a sample of gas production sites.

Field measurements for the study began in May. The major focus of the field work is quantifying emissions from well completions, gas well liquid unloading, and well workovers in addition to other routine well-site fugitive emissions.

Methane can be released into the atmosphere during gas production, processing, and transportation. A greater understanding of the amount of methane emitted into the atmosphere can better inform sound policies and management of emissions from well sites, study organizers said.

“This study is unparalleled in its scope and approach,” said David Allen, principal investigator of the study and director of the Cockrell School of Engineering's Center for Energy and Environmental Resources. “Through data our research team collects from wells and facilities in the nation's major shale producing areas and the data we receive from the nine participating natural gas producers, we hope to bring hard, scientific findings to an environmental issue that is still not well understood,” Allen added.

Previously, some reports have raised questions about the overall effect of gas usage on total US greenhouse gas emissions because of widely varying assumptions concerning the potential emissions of methane during the extraction and production processes.

Mark Brownstein, chief counsel to EDF’s national energy program and head of EDF’s gas research, said the study will help provide information about methane leakage rates at wells.

“If we want natural gas to be an accepted part of a strategy for improving energy security and moving to a clean energy future, it is critical for all of us to work together to quantify and reduce methane emissions as may be appropriate,” Brownstein said. “Such a strategy could yield enormous environmental and health benefits.”

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

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