New rules too weak to cut methane leaks from natgas wells – group

30 April 2012 22:58  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS)--The natural gas industry will remain the largest single source of methane pollution in the US, responsible for almost 40% of total human-controlled methane emissions, even with new regulations, a group said on Monday.

The group acknowledged that the new US standards are an important step that will significantly reduce methane emissions, and therefore the greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas.

However, shale gas's footprint will remain larger than that of coal when viewed over an integrated 20-year time period following emission to the atmosphere, according to the Physicians Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy (PSE).

The group cited a report by professors Anthony Ingraffea and Robert Howarth of Cornell University.

The new regulations were issued earlier this year by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and they intended to reduce the amount of methane released from wells.

Despite the new regulations, shale gas methane emissions will remain significant, with the estimates indicating a likely leakage of 2.5-3.9% of the amount of methane produced over the lifetime of a shale-gas well and possibly as high as 6%, the PSE said. 

These ongoing emissions result from chronic leakages at the well site as well as chronic leakages and purposeful venting associated with gas storage, transmission through high-pressure pipelines and distribution to consumers, the PSE said.

Given the limits of the control and the delayed start date, the regulations on shale gas emissions must be considered to be too little, too late, the PSE said. 

The July 2011 United Nations report and a January 2012 paper in the journal Science both stress the urgent need to reduce methane emissions globally, beginning immediately, the PSE said. 

Without stringent methane control, the global temperature is predicted to reach potentially dangerous levels, which may well lead to critical changes in the earth’s climate system such as huge increases in the release of methane stored in arctic permafrost, the PSE said. This could lead to greatly accelerated global warming – within the next 15 to 40 years.

By: George Martin
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