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article imageMethane emissions are 'highest ever recorded' in Permian Basin

By Karen Graham     Apr 23, 2020 in Environment
Oil and gas operations in America's sprawling Permian Basin are releasing methane at twice the average rate found in previous studies of 11 other major U.S. oil and gas regions, according to new satellite observations.
The Permian basin of West Texas and southeastern New Mexico is one of the largest oil-producing regions in the world and is three times larger than North Dakota's Bakken field. The oil is located in four layers of shale and sits under land owned by several energy companies. The deposits can only be recovered using modern methods including fracking and horizontal drilling.
However, in a new study authored by scientists from the Environmental Defense Fund, Harvard University, Georgia Tech, and the SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research, and published today in the journal Science Advances, it was found that oil and gas operations in America's sprawling Permian Basin are releasing methane at twice the average rate found in previous studies.
If anything, the biggest takeaway from the new study calls into question the climate benefits of natural gas. "These are the highest emissions ever measured from a major U.S. oil and gas basin. There's so much methane escaping from Permian oil and gas operations that it nearly triples the 20-year climate impact of burning the gas they're producing," said co-author Dr. Steven Hamburg, chief scientist at EDF.
TROPOMI UVN (UV-UVIS-NIR) Module  Accommodated on the UVN Optical Bench Module (Credit: TNO  Airbus ...
TROPOMI UVN (UV-UVIS-NIR) Module, Accommodated on the UVN Optical Bench Module (Credit: TNO, Airbus DS-NL).
ESA
"These findings demonstrate the rapidly growing ability of satellite technology to track emissions like these and to provide the data needed by both companies and regulators to know where emissions reductions are needed."
New technology and atmospheric inverse modeling
The 11-month long study was based on data from the European Space Agency's Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI) collected during 2018 and 2019.
The TROPOMI is an advanced spectrometer and is part of a joint initiative between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The TROPOMI does atmospheric monitoring at high temporal and spectral resolution and increased cloud-free observation.
Eagle Ford Shale methane gas flares visible from space (green and infrared wavelengths)  in the arc ...
Eagle Ford Shale methane gas flares visible from space (green and infrared wavelengths), in the arc between "1" and "2", amid cities in south Texas in 2012, acquired by NASA's acquired by the Suomi NPP satellite.
NASA
The Sentinel-5P will measure pollution across individual countries, providing data on Ozone NO_2, SO_2, Formaldehyde, Aerosols, Carbon dioxide, Methane, and Clouds, according to the ESA website. The monitoring is in support of air quality, climate, and ozone operational monitoring programs.
The study also used data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite that detects heat from gas flaring and thereby pinpoints the location of oil and gas wells.
The methane study uses the latest technology and methods available to analyze and present data, including an inverse analysis of TROPOMI observations to derive an optimized estimation of monthly methane emissions at 0.25° × 0.3125° horizontal resolution in the Permian Basin.
(A) Gas flaring radiant heat is the annual average of 2018 measured by the VIIRS satellite instrumen...
(A) Gas flaring radiant heat is the annual average of 2018 measured by the VIIRS satellite instrument, and (B) NO2 tropospheric column density is the 3-month average (June, July, and August of 2018) measured by the TROPOMI instrument.
Yuzhong Zhang et al.
Atmospheric inverse modeling is a statistical approach that can be used to trace atmospheric measurements of trace gases back to the magnitude and patterns of fluxes (i.e. emissions and uptake) of these gases at the Earth surface.
"That is important because it adds further confirmation that the high methane concentrations observed in the Permian stem from emissions from oil and gas production," said Riley Duren, a research scientist at the University of Arizona and an engineering fellow at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who was not involved in the new study.
According to the peer-reviewed study, "Overall, the high leakage rate in the Permian Basin appears to be associated with insufficient infrastructure for natural gas gathering, processing, and transportation, leading to extensive venting and flaring.
More about permian basin, methane emissions, TROPOMI measurements, atmospheric inverse modeling, Natural gas
 
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