The Permian Basin extends 250 miles by 250 miles in west Texas and southeast New Mexico, and accounts for more than a third of crude oil and 10% of natural gas in the United States.
The study, published this week in the journal Science Advances, also found that the methane leakage rate represents 3.7% of all gas extracted in the basin, about 60% more than the national average leakage rate. . Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, and since the Permian basin is so large, this excess waste is an important contribution to our already warm climate.
“These are the highest emissions ever measured from a large US oil and gas basin,” said study co-author Dr. Steven Hamburg, chief scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).
To map methane emissions, the team used a space sensor on a European Space Agency satellite called the Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI) from May 2018 to March 2019.
Since 2005, the rapid increase in oil and natural gas production in the United States has been mainly due to hydraulic fracturing (also known as hydraulic fracturing) and horizontal drilling.
While some see methane leaking as a huge waste of natural resources, others focus on the danger posed by methane. Methane is an extremely powerful greenhouse gas trapping heat, much more powerful than its best known counterpart,.
There is 225 times less methane in the atmosphere than CO2, but due to its powerful heat trapping qualities, methane contributes about 25% of the current rate of global warming.
Since the industrial revolution, global methane concentrations have doubled, mainly due to human activities such as farming, landfill decomposition and the burning of fossil fuels.
“I am very concerned about the increased methane emissions,” said Dr. Robert Howarth, biogeochemist and methane expert at Cornell University, who was not involved in the study. “Methane is 120 times more powerful than CO2 as a greenhouse gas, compared to mass for the time that the two gases are in the atmosphere,” he said.
According to Hamburg, the methane gas escaping from the Permian basin is so excessive that it has tripled the typical thermal impact it would otherwise have had on burning the gas. Evidence of this massive leak weakens the case of proponents of natural gas who boast of its cleaner combustion qualities than that of its cousin who normally burns dirtier, coal.
“The most recent thought is that to compare coal and natural gas to generate electricity, gas is worse than coal if the methane emission rate is greater than 2.7%,” said Howarth. . However, this research found that the emission rate from the Permian Basin is higher than that – 3.7% of the raw gas extracted. As a result, leaks in the Permian Basin are so high that they make gas and oil emissions more intense than even coal.
“After remaining stable for the first decade of the 21st century, methane emissions have increased rapidly over the past decade,” said Howarth. “My research indicates that the development of shale gas in the United States is responsible for ” at least a third of the total. increase these emissions globally. “
Harvard / EDF paper attributes the high rate of methane leakage to extensive ventilation and flaring, resulting from insufficient infrastructure to process and transport natural gas.
On the other hand, concludes the document, the higher than average leakage rate in the Permian basin implies an opportunity to reduce methane emissions through better design, more efficient management, regulation and development of infrastructure.
But in recent years, fossil fuel regulations have gone in the opposite direction. “Trump’s EPA has proposed to significantly weaken, if not eliminate, the regulations adopted by the Obama administration to control methane emissions from oil and gas facilities,” said Romany Webb, senior researcher at the Sabin Center for Columbia Law School’s Climate Change Law.
Webb says the Texas Railroad Commission – the state’s oil and gas regulator – has its own rules governing ventilation and flaring. Ventilation and flaring are permitted up to 10 days after the drilling of the well is completed; after that, operators can request an exemption from the commission. “Recently, the number of exemptions granted by the commission has increased considerably, raising fears that it will act simply as a rubber stamp,” said Webb.
“Detecting emissions requires sophisticated approaches and highly qualified personnel,” said Howarth. “To date, the best any government has done is come up with regulations that rely on industry self-declaration. I find it rather useless. “
If the world has any hope ofdescribed in the Paris climate agreement, can’t do it alone – the climate reacts much faster to methane, says Howarth. To keep the level of warming below the international target of 2 degrees Celsius and prevent the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, it is essential to control methane leaks. Without it, humanity cannot succeed.