Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Methane Leakage Issue Flaring Today

The methane leakage issue is flaring today.

The Environmental Protection Agency in Pittsburgh is holding a field hearing on proposed rules regulating methane and other air emissions.  80 people are signed up to testify.

 Also on the front page of today's NYT is a story by Clifford Krauss (not to be confused with the infamous "NYT Gas Reporter") focusing on the flaring of natural gas in North Dakota.  See http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/27/business/energy-environment/in-north-dakota-wasted-natural-gas-flickers-against-the-sky.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all.

According to the NYT story, approximately 160 million cubic feet per day of natural gas are flared in North Dakota, up from less than 25 million cubic feet per day in 2005.  That is a lot of gas, roughly 0.25% of all gas consumed in the USA on an average day.

At $4 per thousand cubic feet, the industry is burning $640,000 worth of gas per day or about $19 million per month.  The real value of the gas is higher than those numbers, because it also contains propane and butane that have real value too.

Why is industry flaring so much gas and burning dollars?  The gas is a co-product of the more valuable oil that is being drilled in North Dakota, and the construction of the gathering lines and pipeline infrastructure to move the gas to market is not keeping pace with the drilling.  It is profit-maximizing to produce the oil and burn the gas, while the pipeline infrastructure catches up.

The flared methane is less damaging to the environment by a factor of 22 than venting methane without flaring it would be.  Professor Howarth in his now infamous life-cycle study assumed all methane was vented and none was flared. That assumption was just one of many that he used to produce his now debunked results.

But venting or flaring is wasting, and flaring does release heat trapping gas to the atmosphere.

Again according to the NYT story, the flared methane is the equivalent of 2 million tons of carbon dioxide in the air every year.  USA told carbon emissions are about 7 billion.

In a sane world, with people reasoning together, surely it would be possible to structure business operations and regulatory rules that captured gas and put in pipelines in a timely manner to reduce flaring to minimal levels and to avoid normally venting. 

Hopefully, the EPA's proposed July 28th rulemaking can make progress in this area.  Moreover companies wishing to establish good environmental performance records must focus on methane leakage issues now, if they have not already.

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