A major new study finds that, as suspected, it is new, unconventional gas wells that are far more likely to leak heat-trapping — and tap-water igniting — methane than older, conventional wells.
After examining the publicly available compliance records of more than 41,000 wells in northeastern Pennsylvania, the Cornell-led researchers have dropped this bombshell:
About 40 percent of the oil and gas wells in parts of the Marcellus shale region will probably be leaking methane into the groundwater or into the atmosphere…. This study shows up to a 2.7-fold higher risk for unconventional wells — relative to conventional wells — drilled since 2009.
Study after study has found consistently higher methane leakage rates from natural gas production and distribution than reported by either the industry or EPA (which uses industry self-reported data).
The key point is that natural gas is mostly methane, (CH4), a super-potent greenhouse gas, which traps 86 times as much heat as CO2 over a 20-year period. So the leaks in the natural gas production and delivery system that have now been observed are enough to gut the entire benefit of switching from coal-fired power to gas for many, many decades.
Writing this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers explain:
“These results, particularly in light of numerous contamination complaints and explosions nationally in areas with high concentrations of unconventional oil and gas development and the increased awareness of the role of methane in … climate change, should be cause for concern.”
This study comes just two weeks after Princeton research found “Methane emissions from abandoned oil and gas [AOG] wells appear to be a signiﬁcant source of methane emissions to the atmosphere.” That research found up to 970,000 AOG wells in Pennsylvania!
There seems little doubt that fracked wells — those that are still producing and those that are abandoned — leak methane into the water and air creating serious health and climate problems. It is time for the industry to move from denial to action.