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Stopping Natural Gas Leakage-A Major Opportunity To Reduce Global Warming

Bloomberg Businessweek August 23, 2021 pp38-43 “Methane Hunters” “Scientists and activists are racing to find globe-warming leaks in America’s largest oil field-and get them plugged before they cook the planet further” By Zachary R. Mider

Read the Bloomberg Businessweek article for all detail

Summary offered by 2244

Unbeknownst to most of us, “methane [AKA Natural Gas] has many times carbon’s [AKA CO2] warming power and is thought to be responsible for about a quarter of the increase in global temperatures caused by humans.” Still CO2 “from burning fossil fuels is the principal cause of global warming.” But methane leaks into the environment present as a major addressable opportunity to reduce greenhouse gases.

Why is reducing methane such an opportunity?

Scientists and activists using everything from methane-sensing-hand-held-instruments to methane-sensing-aircraft and -satellites have discovered the largest single source of methane leakage is from the Permian Basin. This area consists of a 150 mile wide swath of Texas and New Mexico long known for its prolific production of fuel oil and natural gas.

So how can mankind address this leakage of natural gas?

Experts believe there are two key methods for reducing or eliminating the release of natural gas as a byproduct of the oil-drilling process. First, oil producers can directly connect oil wells to natural gas pipelines to siphon off the natural gas being released as part of the oil-drilling process. Second, and less desirable, burn off the natural gas as it egresses from the oil well.

What is preventing us from trapping this rich source of greenhouse gas?

The oil and gas industry has historically focused on oil. Oil typically generates higher revenue and higher profit than natural gas. The demand is greater for oil and collecting and delivering oil to market is relatively easy. So capturing natural gas escaping from oil wells hasn’t been a focus. To avoid safety and environmental health concerns, companies have simply burned off the natural gas byproduct. Burning off natural gas, from oil wells, produces CO2 but that amount is small compared to the global production of CO2 from burning all fossil fuels for transportation and energy-generation. When compared to methane as a greenhouse gas, CO2 is not nearly as effective as methane in warming the planet. As it turns out, these natural gas flares often fail and when they fail they are not readily detected and remediated. Methane then is free-flowing unchecked into the air.

Rather than burning natural gas leaking from wells, what else can be done to prevent methane from natural gas escaping into the environment?

The simple answer is that if you can burn-off natural gas you can also collect it for resale. This of course is easier said than done. Setting complicated systems to capture and transport natural gas to market require deliberate efforts in engineering and significant investment. Some large, publicly-held, companies are taking voluntary actions to avoid fallout from investors, scientists and activists. Activists using techniques on the ground, in aircraft and in spacecraft (satellites) “are acting as self-appointed private eyes, running their own Permian monitoring programs and pressuring companies directly. Others are more blunt and say “the only way to clean up the Permian to stop drilling.” Lastly, while “Wall street is forcing large companies to take action...but many private operators are still doing what they please.” Experts believe that seeking government regulation to restrict methane release is not going to be an effective or "practical way to resolve methane leakage.”

What’s the net effect of this leaking of methane from the Permian Basin?

Sadly, the current rate of methane leakage “erases most of natural gas’s advantage over coal, especially, in the short term.”


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