New fracking studies reveal unexpected methane levels
Two reports about methane emissions from hydraulic fracturing sites in Pennsylvania are raising questions about the environmental impacts of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in British Columbia.
The first, dated June 2014 and authored by Mary Kang of Princeton University, presents findings from abandoned wells that suggest such sites could account for four percent to 13 percent of the state’s anthropogenic methane emissions.
The second, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in April 2014, surveyed active hydraulic fracturing (fracking) sites and found gas plumes in the air above wells had methane levels two to three times greater than previous estimates by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In a telephone interview, the Pembina Institute’s associate regional director for B.C. told the Straight that the more we learn about fracking and methane leaks the worse things look for the province’s LNG sector.
“There are definitely questions as to what the actual emissions are,” said Matt Horne. “Those studies out of Pennsylvania, those are all measuring things that are not picked up in [B.C.] inventories. Things like methane at drilling stages and methane from abandoned wells: we know there is methane there, but it’s not included in any sort of reporting protocol.”
Horne also called attention to a December 2013 B.C. government report stating that 70 percent more methane is released from fracking operations’ pneumonic devices (controls responsive to pressure) than was previously acknowledged.
B.C.’s Ministry of Natural Gas Development referred questions to the Ministry of Environment, which did not make a spokesperson available for an interview.
According to Marc Lee, a senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, as much as 85 percent of B.C.’s natural-gas sector now relies on fracking, which he noted is more damaging to the environment than traditional LNG operations.
Lee said best-practice technologies can minimize methane leakage at fracking sites. He argued, however, that the province is not doing enough to ensure companies adopt those tools.
“We only have claims about the cleanest LNG in the world,” Lee said. “It’s government by sound bite and press release.”