Friday, November 30, 2012

MIT Blockbuster Study Finds Shale Gas Methane Emissions Greatly Exaggerated: Shale Gas Is Cleaner Than Even EPA Number

Yesterday researchers from MIT published a peer reviewed, blockbuster study that finds that Prof. Howarth of Cornell University greatly exaggerated the methane emissions coming from shale gas wells. Indeed, the MIT data indicate that Howarth's now infamous study overstated methane emissions to the atmosphere by a range of 7 to 30 times the actual release from the nearly 4,000 shale gas wells that the MIT study analyzed. And this is the MIT study:

The MIT paper notes that Prof. Howarth looked at a handful of shale gas wells; then overstated the potential release of gas from that handful of wells; and further totally falsely assumed that all shale gas wells vented 100% of the full gas potential release.  In other words, Howarth miscalculated how much each gas well could release, even if all gas was vented during the flowback period.  And then Howarth falsely assumed that no shale gas well is green completed or flared but all gas is vented.

The MIT researchers politely said of Howarth's assumption that it is "unreasonable."  Of course, the venting assumption was far from the only "unreasonable" assumption in the Howarth paper.

By contrast, MIT looked at 4,000 shale gas wells, and not just a handful, to get a more accurate estimate of what each gas well could potentially release to the atmosphere, were it vented. MIT then looked at actual industry practices for venting, flaring, and green completions at shale wells.  Francis O'Sullivan and Sergey Paltsev, the two MIT researchers conducting the study, calculated that 70% of shale gas wells are green completed; 15% are flared; and 15% are vented.

The bottom line of the MIT researchers paper is that the "carbon footprint" of a shale gas well has been greatly exaggerated and is even lower than the EPA 2011 estimate.

The MIT study also looks at the cost of green completing a Barnett shale gas well and compares those costs to the revenues gained by paying for a green completion.  The paper finds that 95% of the time the green completions paid for themselves and would still pay for themselves 83% of the time if the costs of completion were doubled.  This cost data indicates that companies in most cases would be losing money by not green completing a shale gas well.

Climate change is an enormous challenge that demands honest, disciplined science. Even the passions stirred by the fracking debates should not allow the real science and facts of methane emissions from shale gas wells to be manipulated and demagogued. The facts are and science shows that shale gas has reduced substantially US carbon emissions and could be doing the same globally because it is cleaner than coal or oil.  Telling good people the opposite is irresponsible!


  1. Concerned ScientistNovember 30, 2012 at 9:23 AM

    Fantastic - this seems to be in line with the IHS/CERA study that also said the EPA estimates were too high. Now the big question = will this get any media attention?

  2. Well, this is good news for some and infuriating for those of us who do not live where green completions as the standard practice. Although the noise has diminished the sky pulsed with flame last night from two separate flare sites. I would like the science on the air quality of this valley after years of flaring. I hope and pray gas companies everywhere will cease this barbaric display of their power and use the technology available.

    1. Concerned ScientistDecember 3, 2012 at 5:13 PM

      "I would like the science on the air quality of this valley after years of flaring."

      Is there no wind in your area? If there is wind there, it will blow the emissions away within a few minutes. There should be no lasting air issues from flaring done even yesterday.

      The compressor stations on the other hand are an issue that environmentalists and concerned citizens should be fighting to have minimal noise and emissions.

    2. ah yes we have wind but I live in a valley at the bottom of all this and when we have an inversion and the air is still I think what goes up is coming down..Also the flaring takes place over a two week period-steady, 24 hours a day. Finally, the roaring makes it impossible to sleep or even have a conversation outdoors unless you shout- pulsing light through the windows, roaring like a jet and spewing...nothing to be concerned about, unless you live next to it.

  3. MIT tested 4,000 new wells that were less than 10 days old...Alas, new wells are not what vent fugitive methane.

    1. New wells before they are completed and connected to pipelines are indeed a major source of methane leakage. The flowback period when methane leaks is typically 3 to 10 days. Green completions address this major source of methane leakage, though not the only one in the life cycle.

  4. Not even in highly densely populated areas in FT Worth and Arlington TX do they use available technology. For example...during the topflow flowback stage (before Green Completions equipment is added), they are indirectly venting hydrocarbons and frack water chemical ladened flowback into OPEN hatch flowback tanks. They should be using gas buster equipment that is pressurized and VENTLESS! Even the EPA missed this on their last round of regs to control GHG’s. They also have a bad habit of letting the flowback sit and fester h2s like stuff for months until they get the pipeline connected to the site. This practice of not flowing back right away sickened Jean Stephens in her own parking lot at the Lynn Smith Chesapeake drill site last March in Arlington TX. Chesapeake is planning another late flowback near the Cowboy Stadium any day now. I live, breathe, and blog in BarnettShaleHell.