Gas Leaks in Fracking Disputed in Study

A peer-reviewed study by the University of Texas, sponsored by the Environmental Defense Fund as well as nine different petroleum companies, supports advocates of hydraulic fracturing shale drilling (or fracking, for short) by concluding that leaks of the greenhouse gas methane resulting from the fracking process are actually smaller than the government estimated and way smaller than fracking opponents purported. This is not to say that the amount of methane gas from fracking is totally inconsequential. The study found that more than one million tons are probably lost annually which is less than estimated, based on the analysis of over 500 wells. Additionally, they found that about 99 percent of methane that escapes from the new wells as they’re “completed,” or finished being prepared for production, is captured by containment measures.

The good news is that the Environmental Protection Agency is beginning to require drilling operations to control the completion leaks, which are believed to be one of the major source of methane leaks in fracking operations, starting in 2015. Though the requirement isn’t instituted until 2015, many companies have already begun to capture the escaping gas. The number of wells with escaping gas in the analysis and what affect the required containment might have on the estimated annual loss of one million tons of methane, was not specified.

The study ran from May to December of 2012 and was published in The Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences. It was the first detailed study based on individual drilling sites and was performed with the consent of the petroleum companies, who actually provided 90 percent of the funding for the study. While this may lead some to question the objectivity of the study, the study’s findings appear to be scientifically solid. The previous estimates on probable methane leaks were gathered without individual drilling site inspection and instead relied on calculations and aircraft flybys.


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