Study on emissions from fossil fuel sites questions policy case for fracking, say researchers

180118 KM Eddie Thornton 2

Third Energy’s Kirby Misperton fracking site on 18 January 2018. Photo: Eddie Thornton

Scientists have called for investigations into the levels of methane released from oil and gas sites after a study concluded that global levels of some hydrocarbons in the atmosphere had been underestimated.

The conclusion could challenge the climate change case made by supporters of UK fracking, who argue that methane in natural gas has a lower carbon footprint than coal.

The study, published yesterday in Nature Geoscience, found that emissions of ethane and propane released during fossil fuel extraction and distribution could be two-three times higher than previously thought.

The authors from York, Oslo and Colorado are now calling for further research into emissions of methane, one of the most damaging greenhouse gases, that could also be released from hydrocarbon sites.

One of the authors, Professor Lucy Carpenter, from York University, said:

“We know that a major source of ethane and propane in the atmosphere is from “fugitive” or unintentional escaping emissions during fossil fuel extraction and distribution.

“If ethane and propane are being released at greater rates than we thought, then we also need to carefully re-evaluate how much of the recent growth of methane in the atmosphere may also have come from oil and natural gas development.

“The current policy case for fracking, for example, is partly based on the belief that it is less polluting that coal.”

The researchers used data on ethane and propane levels from 20 observatories across the world and compared it with simulations using emission inventories.

They concluded that observations of ethane and propane could be reproduced in simulations only where fossil fuel emissions were assumed to be two to three times higher than the level in the inventories.

Another author, Professor Ally Lewis, said:

“Levels of ethane and propane declined in many places the 1980s and 1990s, but global growth in demand for natural gas means these trends may be reversing.”

Propane and ethane are the most abundant non-methane hydrocarbons in the atmosphere. They are particularly harmful in large cities where they react with car emissions to form ozone. This is a greenhouse gas and a component of smog.

Professor Lewis said:

“The effects of higher ozone would be felt in the rural environment where it damages crops and plants, and in cities on human health.

“Tropospheric ozone causes a variety of serious health complaints and along with particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide is one of the three major causes of pollution-related deaths.”

Industry response

The industry body, UK Onshore Oil and Gas, has challenged the findings. Its Chief Executive, Ken Cronin, said:

 “The research was unable to distinguish between the emissions associated with different fossil fuels, including coal.  To apportion such emissions solely to oil and gas, and specifically shale gas, would be a misrepresentation of the dataset. This contrasts with a lack of large ethane or propane plumes identified in the North Sea, a large oil and gas producing offshore field.

“This global analysis of ethane and propane emissions reveals that several countries, many of which the UK imports oil and gas from, have higher emissions than had been previously reported- exemplified by large ethane and propane emissions in Middle East, Russia and Africa.

“Relying on data collection from 2011 is outdated as far as shale gas is concerned. Research and Development improvements since then, such as the use of ‘green completions’ and leak detection and repair policies in the US have ensured reduced emissions from shale gas operations.

“This research is an example, once again, of how some datasets are not applicable and unappreciative of the UK regulatory framework for shale gas production. The UK is applying the best available techniques for emissions reduction of onshore shale gas operations from exploration to decommissioning, as well as emissions monitoring from before a well is drilled or hydraulically fractured.”

Campaign response

The Green Party MEP for south east England, Keith Taylor, said:

“The scientific evidence exposes, time and time again, the destructive ignorance of a Conservative government that continues to pump £6bn a year of support into a fossil fuel industry that has set Britain on a course to miss its legally-binding domestic carbon targets and international Paris agreement obligations.”

“Theresa May’s repeated and steadfast insistence on fast-tracking fracking, in particular, flies not only in the face of the evidence, highlighting the climate destruction it wreaks, but also the local democracies and communities over which the industry and Government is riding roughshod.”

“This new report is just the latest in a long line to expose the urgent need to ban fracking. It reinforces the NASA report, from just two months ago, that identified the fossil fuel industry, particularly fracking, as the single largest driver of rising in methane levels in our atmosphere. It’s worth noting that methane has more than 80 times the climate change impact of carbon dioxide emissions.”

“The findings put Theresa May’s support for fracking – which the Government wants to see fast-tracked across England – completely at odds with her green promises. Theresa May might claim the Tories are environmental world-leaders but, with Scotland’s fracking ban already in place, they’re not even leading in the UK.”

“The Government can no longer ignore the overwhelming scientific evidence nor its own polls. The British public is clear and consistent: they don’t want to be locked into climate destructive fossil fuels, they want a clean, renewable energy future. It’s finally time for the Tories to listen. Fracking has never been and never will be a bridge to a clean energy future that it is already in our power to build.”

27 replies »

  1. By the way, PhilipP, you could be correct about Britain getting colder over the next decade or two. The research has been done, but the cause is most likely to be changes in solar activity. Try spinning that as man made.
    Perhaps that’s why my son is out building houses today, ignoring the Beast from the East, and all of them containing nice, cosy, gas fired central heating. Obviously brainless thing to be doing.

  2. There are no mysteries about the solar cycles Martin. They’re well known and plotted. Were are headed for another Maunder minimum (a brief cold spell… 20 odd years) and, in the long run, another ice age – some thousands of years ahead.
    Instead we’re seeing this crazy upswing and what the skeptics don’t get is how rapidly it’s happening. Many species simply can’t adapt at the speed required for these current changes.

    I expect your son will be able to find a ‘drop-in’ electric replacement for his gas boiler before long with a smart storage system that would barely need more room (if any).

    • An interesting report on the radio earlier, apparently the tories are making a concerted effort to astroturf social media?
      No doubt Drill Or Drop will be similarly targeted, as if it was not all ready? But that is another tory story?

      Ttt’s: Tory Twitter Tweeties? Or perhaps Tory Internet Tweeties? See what i did there?

      So it will be fascinating to see what new id’s emerge onto Drill Or Drop and other sites in the next few months.

      Those of us paying attention have also noticed an interesting transformation in literacy and content (an increase thankfully) with the present contributors? I’m not complaining, it has been an education to see the grammar and the word count and the syllable rate increase over the last few weeks?

      This is going to be fun, fresh…..tweet! Yum yum!

  3. Maybe he could, but as he is working on a development where the average price of the houses will be over half a million £s each I think it very unlikely the buyers of these new houses will then decide they want to change their choice of heating. If they were going to, they could have done so when they were agreeing the specification. But I suspect these people just lack intelligence, and the fact they can afford these prices is just accidental.
    Anyway, he now has the next two days off work because of the Beast from the East, so he can keep nice and cosy and increase the UK gas consumption even further.

    “This crazy upswing”-well, we can get a few more ship loads of gas from the Russian Arctic then. But, doesn’t my memory tell me that a few weeks ago America was suffering severe weather conditions from cold air dropping down from the Arctic, so that our Russian gas was transhipped to USA?? Double research needed and another conference in some exotic, but seedy, far flung destination. Bosses taking a subordinate who will pay the bosses bill for “dubious” expenses as the boss promises to sign off on return. Cynical? No, the reality of the gravy train.

    How did the seeds “burrow” their way under the ice-cap in Greenland? Lemmings? Or, a “crazy upswing”?

  4. Your ideas become wackier as time goes on Martin. Though I see you’re simply lapping up the memes put about by the church of global warming denial.

    Is your son working in the same industry as you (used to)? That would explain a lot about your ongoing defense of the O&G industry, but I make no assumptions.

    [Typo corrected at poster’s request]

  5. I have explained numerous times the industries I worked in PhilipP, on DOD. I am devastated you have not read all my output with total concentration (that would explain quite a lot), that you have problems with short term memory (that would also explain a lot) or there are a number of PhilipPs (that would explain what the other doesn’t.)

    Ahh, the old denier tag-we have discussed that before as well. The last resort of the lost debate. Bit like facts are ideas.

    I only build a case, a house is beyond me. Probably due to my lack of knowledge in one but not in the other.

  6. Well …… read the DoD report as I may, no scientist has questioned the policy case for fracking.

    Professor Lewis says ….

    “The current policy case for fracking, for example, is partly based on the belief that it is less polluting that coal.”

    So far so good ….but there are a lot of ‘coulds’ and may in the report.

    They recommend more research into the levels of methane (and therefore associated Ethane and Propane ) being released from Hydrocarbon Production Globally.

    It sounds like a good idea. Gas production has been rising and so has oil. Indeed as past posts on DoD have noted, a large amount of Ethane came from the Bakken in North Dakota. The researchers flew a plane around in 2014 and collected data pointing to that field being a large emitter of Ethane. Worth noting that the gas is very rich in Ethane and Propane, unlike UK gas and (as I believe) our frack gas.

    That field is primarily an oil field, so the gas has been a bit of a problem, with flaring peaking in 2014, and dropping since as they work out how to get the gas to market, and regulations are tightened up.

    So, some more research based on more recent data and another flight around N Dakota would be welcome no doubt.

    While they are at it they can work out the following for us perhaps?

    1. Is UK Frack gas dirtier than UK Coal converted into Electricity at UK Power stations (Exclude mining it as we have missed that boat )
    2. Is UK conventional gas dirtier than UK Coal
    3. Is Norwegian Gas dirtier than UK Coal
    4. Is imported LNG dirtier than UK Frack gas

    Its all a bit difficult as we have yet to produce UK frack gas in any quantity, and have yet to see one pad settle down sufficiently to use green completions.

    Of course, this discussion is immaterial if you want it all kept in the ground and straight to (or faster to ) 100% renewable energy..

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