A Stanford University study of comprehensive aerial data – multiple measurements of 90% of wells in the New Mexico section of the Permian Basin – demonstrates the enormity of fugitive methane emissions from oil and gas production.
Researchers determined that the methane releases from New Mexico’s Permian Basin are almost 200 metric tons per hour – six times higher than Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates.
Fugitive emissions from wells and leaks from aging and poorly maintained equipment are the primary sources of this methane. Yuanlei Chen and Evan Sherwin, Stanford researchers, found that a subset of wells and pipelines were emitting huge amounts of methane.
Identifying and sealing these super-emitter leaks is a low-cost, high-benefit correction that immediately and permanently reduces Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions.
Previous data collection efforts have only sampled a small percentage of wells, grossly underestimating emission volume. EPA calculations reported US methane emissions as 1.4% of gross gas production: However, new data from New Mexico shows an emissions rate of 9.4%.
Natural gas accounts for over one-third of American energy consumption and has been hailed as a “bridge” energy source. It produces less CO2 than traditional fossil fuels like coal and could provide a reliable and relatively clean source of energy as the world transitions to renewable energy sources.
However, this only holds true if fugitive emissions are kept to a minimum. The climate “breakeven point” of natural gas over coal is a 2.8% methane leakage rate, according to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).
While other US basins will have varying emission rates, the scope of the problem may be enormous and could invalidate the rationale of transitioning from coal to natural gas.
The silver lining in this data: a small number of wells are disproportionate methane emitters – cleaning up these outsize emissions sources would have tremendous positive impact.
While the risk of fugitive emissions undermining clean energy production is certainly real, across the U.S. operators are taking action to ensure their emissions are kept to a minimum. Jonah Energy, a Wyoming natural gas producer, is using thermal imaging to detect methane leaks, with each well checked monthly. This initiative has resulted in a 68% reduction in methane emissions per produced unit of natural gas across Jonah’s 2,400 wells.
Routine monitoring is paramount to reducing emissions and new technology is providing a cost-effective way to do it. Unfortunately, while locating leaks has now become relatively easy, eliminating them is often difficult and expensive. Traditional sealants like cement are often inconsistent and ineffective at stopping leaks, allowing leakage to persist and costs to balloon after multiple failed attempts.
BioSqueeze® utilizes innovative biomineralization technology to eliminate leaks efficiently and effectively, preventing further emissions and reducing expenses so more leaks can be sealed.
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