By MORGAN LEE, Associated Press
SANTA FE, NM (AP) – A pollution survey using sensors on small planes to detect methane emissions in a major oil and natural gas producing area in the United States indicates higher releases of the potent gas greenhouse gas emissions than previous estimates by other methods, according to results released Wednesday.
Supported by philanthropists and the fossil fuel industry, the study looked at emissions from October 2018 to January 2020 in New Mexico’s Permian Basin portion, one of the largest sources of oil and natural gas. in the world that extends to West Texas.
The study estimated that methane emissions were equivalent to about 9% of the overall gas production in the study area. This is more than double the rate of several previous studies of the Permian Basin and the US government’s national estimates of natural gas losses from leaks and releases.
“The bad news is that emissions at that time and in that region were as high as they are,” said Evan Sherwin, study co-author and researcher in the Department of Energy Resources Engineering at the Institute. Stanford University. “The good news is that there were only about 1,000 sites out of 26,000 active wells. … Only a few percent were emitting during this in-depth study.
The study comes at a pivotal time for efforts by government regulators and industry to measure and control greenhouse gas emissions from oilfield infrastructure.
For more than a decade, government auditors have warned that bad data is blinding regulators to the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere by flaring and venting from the oil and gas industry.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency has proposed new regulations to eliminate venting in new and existing oil wells and require companies to capture and sell gas whenever possible.
New Mexico recently passed its own rules to limit most oilfield venting and flaring to reduce methane emissions, and environmental regulators are set to impose new restrictions on oilfield equipment. that emit smog-causing pollution.
Robert McEntyre, spokesman for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, said progress has already been made to address methane emissions since surveys were conducted for the study.
“This 2-year-old report offers a snapshot in time that may not reflect current conditions, but certainly underscores industry priority and industry commitment to advancing these rules that will ultimately help reduce emissions over time,” he said. “We would certainly expect that quoted prime number to only continue to decline.”
Methane plumes can be detected by light signature frequencies. Methane images were collected by a small propeller plane flying 3,000 feet (1,000 meters) above the ground during 115 flight days, while surveying the New Mexico oilfields by Kairos Aerospace.
“The main advantage of aircraft is that they strike a balance between sensitivity and fast coverage,” Sherwin said, acknowledging recent advances in satellite survey technology. “This is the largest survey that has been used to estimate a region’s total methane emissions.”
Sherwin says he and his colleagues at Stanford and the University of Michigan have quantified significant methane emissions not only from well sites, but also from pipelines where they merge. Funding came from sources such as the Stanford Natural Gas Initiative and the industry consortium.
Climate scientists have warned that without immediate and deep reductions in carbon dioxide and methane emissions, the world will miss its chance to avoid the most destructive and deadly effects of climate change.
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