Research published in the latest edition of Environmental Science & Technology raises new concerns about methane emissions from natural gas production.
Some natural gas wells, compressor stations and processing plants in the Barnett Shale region leak far more methane — a potent greenhouse gas — than previously estimated, according to researchers from the University of Houston.
Although natural gas burns more cleanly than other fossil fuels, these emissions could potentially offset the climate benefits of natural gas.
Authors Robert Talbot, Xin Lan, Azucena Torres and Patrick Laine note that over the course of 100 years methane has a global warming potential as high as 34 times that of carbon dioxide.
The study is one of 11 papers coordinated by the Environmental Defense Fund and published this month.
The University of Houston researchers tested from public roads next to natural gas well pads, compressor stations and processing plants, and calculated what percentage of the natural gas produced escaped through emissions. They also measured emissions from natural sources of methane, including landfills.
Results showed that a small number of individual production sites had very high methane loss rates that would make natural gas from these sites worse for the climate than coal in the short-term.
Releases ranged from 0.01 percent to 47.8 percent.
A breakdown of the findings reveals that methane releases from compressor stations and processing plants were considerably higher than from well pads. These emissions mostly come from leaks and equipment malfunctions that are relatively easy to prevent with proper and frequent monitoring and repair practices, the Environmental Defense Fund said.