Methane Leak Data Highlights Concerns About Natural Gas Drilling

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A pair of ongoing studies show unexpectedly high methane leakage from some oil and gas fields in the U.S., findings that underscore concerns that the climate benefits of the natural gas boom may be overstated.

Researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder say new data indicates that as much as 4 percent of methane from a production area in Denver is leaking into the atmosphere, echoing findings first reported in a much-disputed study published last year in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

A separate field study in Utah suggested even higher methane leakage rates of 9 percent. The calculations were made based on aerial and ground-based measurements and atmospheric models that estimated the level of emissions required to produce the recorded concentrations. “We were expecting to see high methane levels, but I don’t think anybody really comprehended the true magnitude of what we would see,” said Colm Sweeney, lead scientist for the federal Earth System Research Lab Aircraft Program.

Burning natural gas produces significantly fewer greenhouse gas emissions than coal, but scientists are concerned that those benefits could be partially offset by methane leaks from the gas-drilling practice known as hydrofracturing, or fracking.

Article appearing courtesy Yale Environment 360.

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Yale Environment 360 is an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting and debate on global environmental issues. We feature original articles by scientists, journalists, environmentalists, academics, policy makers, and business people, as well as multimedia content and a daily digest of major environmental news. Yale Environment 360 is published by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale University. We are funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The opinions and views expressed in Yale Environment 360 are those of the authors and not of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies or of Yale University.

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