The potent greenhouse gas methane may be leaking from natural gas drilling fields at a much high rate than previously believed, according to a recent study published in a scientific journal and reported by Huffington Post.
The study, based on airborne tests conducted above a natural gas field in Uintah County, Utah, indicates that between 6.2 percent and 11.7 percent of the natural gas drawn from wells in the field is leaking directly into the atmosphere.
With that leakage rate, natural gas is a more environmentally hazardous fuel than either oil or coal because of its impact on global climate change, according to most expert estimations. A 2012 study by scientists for Princeton University and the Environmental Defense Fund showed that switching power generation from coal to natural gas would reduce climate change only as long as the rate of methane leakage was below 3.2 percent.
The new report out of Utah is also the latest of several to cast doubt on the official U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimate that only 1.5 percent of methane from natural gas production is escaping into the atmosphere. In addition to the leaks in the gas fields, methane escapes during natural gas transmission and distribution, due to gas line accidents and persistent, unrepaired leaks.
The Utah study is the first to use an aircraft to directly sample the air downwind of natural gas and oil wells. Most other studies to date have relied on various estimating techniques to determine methane emissions associated with natural gas drilling.
Colm Sweeney, a scientist with Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder and coauthor of the study, told Climate Central that he was surprised by the "huge amount" of methane emissions the study found. "We're estimating that 9 percent of that is just leaking right out, never getting to the end of the pipeline ... to the actual user point," he said.
To read the Huffington Post article, click here.