Thursday, November 29, 2012

MIT Study Refutes Earlier "Fugitive" Gas Studies

Yesterday, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) issued a new comprehensive study on the levels of "fugitive" methane escaping from shale gas wells that showed significantly lower actual emissions than previous studies had estimated (here is a link to the study).  The new study was less theoretical and wider in scope and sample size than other previous studies.  It also used actual field practices to determine realistic levels of methane leakage rather than relying on theoretical estimates.  Quoting the MIT press release, "the amount of methane emissions caused by shale gas production has been largely exaggerated."

In particular, the MIT study rebukes the earlier findings of Cornell professor (and shale gas critic) Robert Howarth, who riled the industry last year with a study saying that natural gas was less environmentally friendly than coal when looking at the life cycle of gas and including gas that escapes during the completion process.  For many on the anti-drilling/fracking side, the concept of fugitive methane replaced the idea that water supplies can be threatened as the main line of protest against drilling.

But the MIT researchers countered that the Howarth study looked at a limited data set and did not take into account actual field practices to limit methane leakage. The MIT study looked at the Barnett, Haynesville, Fayetteville, Marcellus and Woodford Shales, while Howarth only studied the Barnett and Haynesville.  Again, from the MIT press release:
"In studying potential emissions, Howarth found 252 Mg of methane emissions per well in the Barnett site and 4,638 Mg per well in the Haynesville site. The MIT researchers, using their comprehensive well dataset, found that the potential emissions per well in the Barnett and Haynesville sites were in fact 273 Mg and 1,177 Mg, respectively. When accounting for actual gas handling field practices, these emissions estimates were reduced to about 35 Mg per well of methane from an average Barnett well and 151 Mg from an average Haynesville well." 
That's a significant difference worth restating:  Howarth said 252 Mg of methane emitted from a Barnett well while MIT says 35 Mg (14% of Howarth's figure), and Howarth said 4,638 Mg from a Haynesville well while MIT says 151 Mg (3% of Howarth's figure).

The debate will rage on, for sure, but this MIT study is a strong counterargument to the current talking points of those who oppose gas drilling and hopefully will receive the same level of press as the Cornell study.


James said...


Can you pm me? I have a question about
the Haynesville for you. I'm curious what
you think the trend will produce over, say,
the next 40 years.

Ballpark EUR is fine.

Robert Hutchinson said...


I don't have your contact info. Can you email me at haynesvilleplay (at) gmail (dot) com?