8:44am

Sat May 10, 2014
Environment

Oil And Gas Methane Emissions Triple Previous Estimates

A drilling rig and associated equipment near a neighborhood in Weld County, Colorado, just south of Dacono.
Credit David Oonk / CIRES

As new restrictions on methane emissions for Colorado’s Oil and Gas Industry begin, a collaborative study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the University of Colorado and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Studies reveals those emissions are three times as high than originally thought.

It’s not just methane levels that are higher. Benzene, a carcinogen derived from car exhaust and suspected to also originate from oil and gas wells, was nearly seven times higher than previous estimates based on measurements taken over two days in the spring of 2012.

That study supports evidence from earlier research between 2008 and 2010 that state and federal agencies have underestimated the magnitude of pollutants sent into the atmosphere, and that discrepancy is on the rise. The earlier results revealed that methane levels were double the previous estimates.

Methane makes up nearly 9 percent of the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

The authors of the study suggest the rise in methane levels could be linked to the increase in oil and gas wells in Weld County, up from 14,000 in 2008 to 24,000 in 2012. 19 metric tons of methane were emitted every hour from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking operations, in Weld County. In the Denver-Julesburg Basin, where most of the wells are located, scientists measured emission levels downwind and upwind by plane while ground-level instruments measured wind speed and direction.

2014 will see both state-wide and national policies that require the industry, with possible regulations to clamp down on leaks that cause pollution.

Colorado became the first state to regulate methane emissions caused from the fracking industry. The state has annually failed to meet ground-level ozone pollution standards after the EPA tightened regulations in 2008.

The Environmental Protection Agency is currently in the process of analyzing the direct sources of methane emissions from the oil and gas industry possible new regulations to be unveiled by 2016.