Research

UK link to alleged under-reporting of fracking methane emissions

NC WarnA climate change campaign group has called for an investigation into allegations that high profile US research – cited in UK planning applications and parliamentary advice – under-stated methane leaks at shale gas sites.

The group, NC Warn, complained to the watchdog overseeing the US environmental regulator that two published studies used equipment which under-reported methane levels.

In a 68-page complaint, it argued that opportunities had been lost to reduce fugitive methane from fracking sites and that policy-makers had been misled. It called for the study reports to be corrected.

In the UK, one of the studies was used by Cuadrilla in two planning applications to estimate methane emissions from proposals to frack in Lancashire. The study was also cited in advice on unconventional oil and gas from the Independent Expert Scientific Panel to the Scottish Parliament.

David AllenThe lead author of the studies, Dr David Allen, of University of Texas at Austin, has defended his work. He denied that measurements in the research were affected by instrument failure. (See full statement at the end of this post)

NC Warn’s complaints centre on studies published in 2013 and 2014 and commissioned by the US Environmental Defense Fund.

While some studies around this time were reporting increasing levels of methane from fracking sites in the US, the 2013 study showed much lower emissions. It has been widely cited throughout the world and used by the shale gas industry to argue that methane leaks were low and that no regulation was needed. The report was presented to staff at the White House and US Congress.

Instrument failure

The instrument at the centre of the dispute is the Bacharach Hi-Flow Sampler. NC Warn says concerns about under-reporting by the instrument had been raised before Dr Allen’s 2013 study. But it was the inventor, Touché Howard, who proved the flaw, the group said. He showed in two papers in 2015 that sensor failure could cause the instrument not to switch from its low scale to its high scale.

This could result in under-reporting of emission rates in the Allen studies by up to 100-fold, NC Warn said. It was also concerned about problems with the Fox Flow Meter used by Dr Allen and his researchers in research published in 2014.

The group accused Dr Allen of promoting his studies, despite the warnings. It also alleged that the US environmental regulator, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), did not confront Dr Allen about the concerns.

UK implications

The implications of NC Warn for the UK are unclear. The Bacharach instrument was not used in a 2015 study of methane emissions from former UK oil and gas wells for the ReFine project. This found more than a third of wells were leaking methane but the volume of gas was mostly very small.

DrillOrDrop tried to find out whether the British Geological Survey or the National Physical Laboratory is using the device in its methane monitoring projects in Lancashire and North Yorkshire. But no one was available to talk to us. We’ll update this post if the organisations respond to our request for information about their choice of instrument.

The complaint by NC Warn is however potentially significant because Dr Allen’s studies are regarded by academics and the industry as landmark research. NC Warn said they have been cited 197 times up to April 2016.

Cuadrilla used the 2013 study in the Environmental Statements for its planning application to estimate methane emissions at proposed fracking sites at Preston New Road (see pages 117 and 121) and Roseacre Wood (see pages 127 and 131)

At the public inquiry into the applications earlier this year, one of Cuadrilla’s witnesses, Mark Smith, said in in his rebuttal proof:

“Methane emissions associated with flaring are reported at section 8.7.5 of the ES [Environmental Statement of the planning application]. The source data for the methane estimates was a study undertaken in the United States2.”

The footnote links to: “Allen et al. (2013) Measurements of methane emissions at natural gas production sites in the United States (see table 16 of Appendix H of the ES)”.

The Independent Expert Scientific Panel Report on Unconventional Oil and Gas to the Scottish Parliament, published in 2014 cited the 2013 study. This concluded:

“The impact of unconventional oil and gas resources in Scotland on the Scottish Government’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gases is not definitive.”

On fugitive emissions, it said:

“In the United States, the level of fugitive emissions from shale gas operations has been estimated to range from 0.42% [Dr Allen’s conclusion] – 7.9 % of total gas production (US EPA, 2013; Allen et al, 2013; Tollefson, 2012; Howarth et al, 2011).”

Both Dr Allen’s studies are cited by BG Group under a section of its website which says:

“We are committed to driving industry action to improve data and reduce emissions of methane”

NC Warn’s case

NC Warn’s director, Jim Warren, said:

“The EPA’s failure to order feasible reductions of methane leaks and venting has robbed humanity of crucial years to slow the climate crisis. The cover-up by Allen’s team has allowed the industry to dig in for years of delay in cutting emissions – at the worst possible time.”

NC Warn also argued: “Policy makers may underestimate the impact of natural gas use on the climate and on public health (from toxic air emissions), and thus fail to take action to guard against these problems.”

It alleged that in Denton, Texas, state legislatures overrode local legislation enacted to address the concerns of citizens based on a misguided understanding of methane impacts.

NC Warn also drew attention to funding of Dr Allen’s work by the oil and gas industry and his role as chair of the EPA science advisory board at the time. It said:

“There is a clear pattern of abuse of process and conflict of interest in the data collection, preparation, and dissemination of the Allen studies. Too much was covered up and hidden from scientific scrutiny and EPA review.”

It called on the EPA watchdog, the Office of the Inspector General, to:

  • Investigate the group’s allegations
  • Request a retraction of Dr Allen’s 2013 and 2014 studies
  • Require the EPA to conduct and complete a scientifically-valid study to quantify accurately methane venting and leakage in gas production
  • Investigate the use by the EPA of researchers who have industry bias and direct conflicts of interest

It also recommended the EPA set a zero emission goal for methane, institute a regime for oversight, testing and remediation of methane emissions in the gas industry and take into account the global warming potential of methane over a 20-year timeframe.

Statement by Dr David Allen

“It has been suggested that one of the instruments used in one of our methane emissions studies, published in 2013 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may experience instrument failure under certain high emission rate conditions.

“This claimed equipment failure is restricted to one of multiple types of instruments that were used.  The instrument was used for only a subset of the measurements that were made.  The instrument in question (HiFlow®) has been an industry standard device for the past 20 years.

“We take no position on whether all HiFlow® instruments have the instrument failure mode that has been described, however, our study team strongly asserts that the instrument we used and the measurements we made were not impacted by the claimed failure.

“That assertion is based on the fact that we had 2-3 additional, independent measurement systems that we ran in parallel with the HiFlow®. These included an Optical Gas Imager (OGI, aka infrared camera, the same technology proposed by the EPA for use in new leak detection regulations), and downwind sampling and quantification of emissions from the entire site, by independent investigators.

“In addition, we note that the measurements with the HiFlow® were made directly by highly trained personnel who operated the instrument within inches to feet of emissions being measured. At the emission rates for which the instrument failure is proposed, most of the emissions would be audible, and possibly detectable by odor.

“Operator observations may or may not be considered a parallel measurement, hence we had 2-3 systems run in parallel with the HiFlow® (Optical Gas Imaging, downwind measurements, and operator observations).

“None of these parallel systems indicated a problem with our HiFlow® instrument.  All of these systems would have had to fail, simultaneously, and only at certain types of sites with the conditions that are claimed to produce the equipment failure, for our measurements to have been impacted.

“So, our study team strongly asserts that the instrument we used and the measurements we made were not impacted by the equipment failure and we have documented this in a comment and response in the peer-reviewed scientific literature.”

Statement by University of Texas, Austin

“The University of Texas welcomes any and all independent reviews of our researchers’ studies of methane emissions.

“Dr. David Allen is a scientist of the highest integrity and his peer-reviewed studies were overseen by scientific advisory panels, published in top-tier journals and have been open to public scrutiny for several years. As with all studies, researchers and critics should be able to analyze the findings and place them in the context of other research into this issue.

“Since the methane emissions studies were first announced several years ago, the researchers and university have been fully transparent about the funding and cooperation from industry and environmental groups, and Dr. Allen’s role as chair of the EPA’s Science Advisory Board.”

Links

Allen, D.T., Torres, V.M., Thomas J., et al (2013). Measurements of Methane Emissions at Natural Gas Production Sites in the United States, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS). 110 (44), 17768 – 17773

NC Warn press release

NC Warn full complaint


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26 replies »

  1. The ReFINE study was not on unconventional gas wells and could not take account of fracking activities i.e. when fracking is taking place. The data we have to rely on would have to be data from the US and other countries where the gas extraction is unconventional.

  2. I think one has to be careful in extrapolating US data regarding methane emissions from fracking to the UK. I’m no expert but I think a lot of US studies include leakages from gas transport in pipelines as well as the production process itself.

    Again the concern about risk of methane emissions makes me think about risk perception. This is data from the FAO (part of the United Nations). “Globally, the livestock sector contributes 18 percent (7.1 billion tonnes CO2 equivalent) of global greenhouse gas emissions. Although it accounts for only nine percent of global CO2, it generates 65 percent of human-related nitrous oxide (N2O) and 35 percent of methane (CH4), which have 296 times and 23 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of CO2 respectively.” OK let’s shout that out, LIVESTOCK PRODUCE 35% OF WORLDWIDE METHANE EMISSIONS. So why aren’t the good people of North Yorkshire worried about the dairy farm next door, why no barricades or 100K petitions. I guess because farming is a familiar industry perceived as trustworthy and controllable, unlike shale gas exploration, perceived as weird, unknown and space-age. We need energy, we need food, it’s all the same.

  3. I wonder about the relevance of this.

    Unlike the US, leaks of methane are not permitted except in an emergency, when gas is being produced. The HSE have kept the N sea safe for decades, and maintaining leak free pipes is basic safety.

    Open venting of methane is also not permitted. High efficiency enclosed burners are required in exploration, and if there is a pipeline, well testing will be in to the pipeline. Again, there would seem to be no reason why this should be a problem.

    Its well known that the fracking process has never leaked any methane. The depths preclude that.

    That does of course lead to the surface leaks that have occurred in a few places in the US that some people go on about forever. Its also required that monitoring boreholes and air monitors are to be used to identify problems. In addition, with the higher cementation standards required that would not seem to be an intrinsic problem. (Its also nothing to do with fracking as that issue could occur with any well)

    • Your continual defence of this industry is quite astounding. As is your belief that regulations will save the day.
      I’m sure the USA has some sort of O&G regs. But seems mistakes do keep happening yet you are fine with that. You’d think with all the USA experience they would be the envy of the world yet our O&G industry apparently hold that title even though we haven’t used onshore HVHF apart from that one time when it all went wrong. More than cause an earthquake it woke Lancashire up.

      • OK, so please explain where these emissions will come from? My ‘continuous defence’ is based on reports that use science, rather than scaremongering. You know them, RAE, Royal Society, PHE, EASAC, the EU etc etc.

        The problem Julie is is that in certain states they had NO regulation. Thats where the problems arose. Thats why you cannot draw parallels. (As identified by Public Health England).

    • The H and E have NOT kept the North Sea safe for years. There was a MASSIVE gas leak and explosions in January subsequently sperm whale pods were found across beaches from Germany to East Anglia, where at the latter gas was reported to be leaking from their dead carcases.

      In addition we do NOT have the safest reg framework on the planet, that is just government spin. Norway has the safest where drilling is concerned as it operates drills with built in safety mechanisms which stop the drill when tremors are felt. In the UK worst standard on the planet, no gov dept is charged with monitoring EQ resulting from drilling demonstrating how little care this government has for sea life and environment, while rolling in in billions of pounds from taxes from offshore drilling. Try searching offshore drills and spills, environmental damage and find out just how dangerous offshore drilling really is. RSPB and Marine charities in Scotland are continually fighting offshore drilling developments know to cause horrendous damage to sea life.

      • The same rubbish again. The only incident was on Brae Alpha on Boxing Day:

        https://www.energyvoice.com/other-news/healthandsafety/105160/brae-alpha-gas-leak-caused-catastrophic-pipeline-failure/

        As you know full well the dead whales are not related to offshore gas and oil production. There are plenty of reasons to object to oil and gas offshore but at least use facts and not make things up.

        I agree that Norway has a good regulatory system – but they do not have independent well examination yet – they are looking at introducing it.

        Re Norway – “it operates drills with built in safety mechanisms which stop the drill when tremors are felt” – never heard of this and do not understand what you are referring to technically. But the UK uses the same downhole tools as are used in Norway / Gulf of Mexico etc.

        Are you objecting to offshore oil and gas or onshore shale or everything?

    • Nick Grealy certainly did a “bit” about methane leakage.

      Talking about transmission leakage but not mentioning fracking activities, numbers of proposed wells, associated infrastructure, or abandonment issues, all of which are the main contributors to methane leakage.

      SMi 2012 shale gas environmental summit in London.

      Professor Paul Ekins, Director of Energy and Environment Policy Research, University College London

      Fugitive methane emissions are estimated at 4%, which could make shale gas more environmentally damaging than coal, says UCL energy professor

      Studies suggest fugitive emissions may total 4% of total gas captured from fracking, higher than conventional gas, says UCL’s Paul Ekins. “You only need fugitive emissions of 3-9% for gas to be equivalent to emissions from coal in power stations. Unless you can be very sure that these fugitive emissions won’t occur then the carbon benefits of substituting coal generation with gas might be seriously undermined.”

      David Kennedy, Chief Executive, Committee on Climate Change

      The low calorific value of shale gas is a major issue, says gas guru

      The average calorific value (CV) of the UK national gas grid is 39.5 megajoules per cubic metre; shale gas is quite low at around 37. To get round this, shale gas suppliers may have to inject propane, which costs 140p per therm, into gas transmission pipelines to make up for the shortfall.

      “This is a major issue,” said John Baldwin, managing director of CNG Services Limited. “You probably will have to add propane in LTS (Local Transmission Systems).”

      For injection into the National Transmission System (NTS), there would need to be “thousands of calorific value measurement devices all over the UK”, said Baldwin, in order to ensure accurate billing, as the lower CV of shale gas would mean end-users pay for gas priced at a higher CV than received.

      This is what Ex President of Mobil Oil Louis Allstadt has to say on methane emissions

      What you [also] don’t know [is that] when you plug that well, how much is going to find its way to the surface without going up the well bore. And there are lots of good indications that plugging the well doesn’t really work long-term. There’s still some pressure down there even though it’s not enough pressure to be commercially produced. And sooner or later the steel casing there is going to rust out, and the cement sooner or later is going to crumble. We may have better cements now, we may have slightly better techniques of packing the cement and mud into the well bore to close it up, but even if nothing comes up through the fissures in the rock layers above, where it was fracked, those well bores will deteriorate over time. And there is at least one study showing that 100 percent of plugs installed in abandoned wells fail within 100 years and many of them much sooner.

      • John – I recall you are a big promoter of UK offshore Oil and Gas – fair enough, I agree with all you say about maximising offshore production which will happen as long as it is economic to do so. The following is on the BBC website today:

        “Oil & Gas UK estimated 84,000 jobs linked to the industry went in 2015, with 40,000 losses expected this year.

        It said the offshore industry supported 453,000 jobs at its 2014 peak – either directly, in its supply chain or in trades such as hotels and taxis.

        The new figures suggest 330,000 jobs would be supported by the end of 2016.”

        Not good news and clearly the lower oil price is having a significant impact.

        With regards to your comments above I find it strange that you can support the offshore industry but not the onshore industry when you appear to think that 100% of abnadoned wells will be leaking in 100 years? When it comes to abandonment the operation to safely abandon 30 year old production wells is much more complex than similar operations onshore.

        Have a look at Shell Brent – I follow this as an interested outsider. Many of the wells are extremely complicated to abandon but they are being abandoned using industry guidelines which will ensure no leakage in 100 years or beyond.

        With shale wells there in no or very little permeability and very little primary porosity. Whilst shale is the source rock for conventional resrvoirs the process of generation and migration takes place over millions of years. Even if a shale well was not plugged correctly there will be no reservoir (in a conventional sense) to feed a leak of any significance. The well will have been abandoned as production has reached the end of the economic decline curve, the fractures will slowly close with time and there will be no mechanism for gas to enter the well bore from the delpeted shale.

        If an abandoned well was guaranteed to leak as you are implying I would much rather it was a shale well than a conventional reservoir well near my house.

        • I have referenced 2016 North Sea production costs in comparison with European shale gas production costs many times. The figures show quite clearly North Sea is half the price. If low oil prices are effecting offshore then onshore could never be viable. That is unless you offer onshore at half the tax regime of offshore. Please explain why it would not be logical to lower the offshore tax rate which would see output rise, experienced staff back to work, and companies investing in new field development. Best for everyone.
          If the Government do not do that but promote a low tax onshore industry then serious questions need raising over why they would choose that path.
          I know little of output from conventional offshore wells but am of the understanding that 1 offshore fixed platform can produce huge volumes over many years. Fewer wells to abandon relative to total output and nowhere near peoples homes. This sounds like the best option.

          • Like I said onshore is being sold down the river by its own older bro offshore to protect his interest and the green and nimby are happy to get in the shack with the older bro to trangle it at birth to maintain his throne and power. This is about money power and self interests rather than the good old national security and interest. I bet Scotland is about to ban shale to protect it offshore cash cow and wind subsidies.

          • John, there are no European shale gas production costs as far as I know – where is the production? I don’t have any problem with further tax breaks for the UK offshore industry. But it may take more than that at $50 oil for new exploration and development, particularly for smaller, marginal fields.

            Offshore fields tend to be bigger and higher productivity in Western Europe (Wytch Farm and Groningen in Holland are European exceptions) due to geology and economics. There are many small accumulations offshore which have been discovered but will never be produced as the development costs (platforms etc.) are too high and they are sub economic. For every large field which has been put on production there will be 20 small discoveries which are not economic. However these small offshore fields would almost certainly be economic if they were onshore as the CAPEX is exponentially lower onshore – basically no platform or subsea infrastructure required.

            The largest field in the world onshore or offshore is the Ghawar Field which is onshore Saudi Arabia.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghawar_Field

            The highest single well production rate I am aware of was from an onshore well in Libya – 75,000 BOPD from Intisar D. More than a lot of North Sea platforms produce with many wells. These wells in Libya made Occidental over night.

            • Here are the sources for predicted European Shale Gas Costs. The Industry has done it’s sums.

              In a 2013 submission to Parliament, Bloomberg said it would cost between 47 and 81 pence per therm to extract shale gas in Europe (using USD-to-GBP conversion rates).

              The Oxford Institute for Energy Studies said in its 2010 report “Can Unconventional Gas be a Game Changer in European Markets” that shale extraction would likely be even more expensive, costing between 49 and 102 pence per therm.

              EY, in its 2013 report “Shale Gas in Europe: Revolution or evolution?”, went further still, saying it would cost between 53 and 79 pence per therm.

              And Centrica, which backs UK fracking firm Cuadrilla, said it would cost at the very least 46 pence per therm to frack, according to stats referenced in this 2012 EU report.

              By end of 2016 average operating costs of North Sea is £15 per boe. That equates to 25.8p per therm

              http://oilandgasuk.co.uk/north-sea-industry-anticipates-2-billion-cost-improvement-by-2016/

              Until somebody can prove to me these sources are incorrect and offer alternatives then as it stands North Sea is half the price. That is before the very serious question of the fiscal tax regime and political will which is clearly strangling one of our greatest established assets in favour of a new industry with no competitive edge and clearly not wanted for numerous reasons.
              Energy Analysts who presented to the House of Lords stated that North Sea is cheaper than onshore shale, that the North Sea could give a lot more, and that shale gas could never meet our base fuel needs.

              Set up costs are relevant and need to be considered relevant to production potential and length of life. The new Laggan/Toremore offshore development states it is making money at today’s prices which I see as a good indicator that some new offshore developments are evidently viable.

            • John – then there is nothing for you (and the anti frackers) to worry about. If it is so much cheaper offshore / to import etc. than onshore shale gas in UK it will not happen. Why are you all so worried?

            • And John you are still comparing OPEX (£15/boe North Sea) with full cycle costs – OPEX/ CAPEX / Abandonment etc. (all the shale gas estimates). Apples with apples – I think not.

              Insiders at Total in Shetland tell a different story about Laggan making money – and ask Petrofac’s CEO Ayman Asfari about cost overruns – http://www.offshoreenergytoday.com/petrofac-posts-net-loss-hurt-by-laggan-tormore-costs/

              The link below will give you a better understanding / comapison of North Sea costs, this includes CAPEX. North Sea costs are over $52/bbl. This is why so many jobs are being cut. Note the OPEX costs are higher than your £15/boe however the report is 5 months old.

              http://forargyll.com/?p=104053

  4. Ryedale are now setting up a challenge to NYCC decision after looking at the poor factoring into its decision of emissions, where many reports in respectable outlets have shown impacts to be severe.

    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2016/02/17/3750240/methane-leaks-erase-climate-fracked-gas/

    Personally I’m more concerned at how this government is so gung ho for fracking profits, it is dismantling democratic process to facilitate the fracking WMD on the northern nation.

    At NYCC Vicky Perkins avoids the issue of climate change by saying ”“It is not the responsibility of the planning authority to expect an applicant to deal with matters of climate change in that context in such a wide scale. You cannot apply that to a specific planning application.” Thus deflecting from her/planners responsibility to take it into consideration, which clearly she hasn’t, and it would seem has no intention to do so.

    It’s regulatory framework on the hoof, while each planning application for fracking is rejected or reconsidered, government depts are rapidly responding to all complaints and issues raised by constituents or the public at large. At no planning stage of any fracking applications has all essential regulatory framework been fit for purpose or available due to each dept at government level not having guidance or evidence upon which to base it, or ready for planners to make use of. That is the most alarming feature of this roll out of a new, heinously high polluting industry we know is being used as a WMD on democracy, health and well being.

    The following online document clearly articulates that all publicly appointed officers have a duty of care for the public they are appointed to serve, and can be charged with malfeasance if they do not carry out their duty with that key role at the forefront of their decision making.
    http://www.rmbconsulting.co.uk/Misconduct_in_Public_Office.html

    And here’s an update on what is happening at Bakken US, where opposition to fracking from locals is winning the day as they fight against a strategic lawsuit against public participation, or SLAPP suit, meant to silence their opposition and free-speech rights ( which is exactly what our government is setting planners and gov departments up to do in this country as the fracking debacle races on in the UK)
    http://bakken.com/news/id/255364/judge-dismisses-lawsuit-fracking-opponents/

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