MIT: Methane Released During Shale Gas Retrieval Less Than Expected

And down goes another fracking-alarmist talking point. Via the Massachusetts Institute of Technology:

While the United States lags in developing a broad-based climate policy, the nation’s carbon emissions reached a 20-year low this year. Many have attributed some of that drop to a booming supply of low-carbon natural gas, of which the United States is the world’s largest producer. But does natural gas — and specifically the quickly developing production of shale gas — create other emissions, such as methane, that could be just as harmful? A new study by MIT researchers shows the amount of methane emissions caused by shale gas production has been largely exaggerated.

“While increased efforts need to be made to reduce emissions from the gas industry overall, the production of shale gas has not significantly increased total emissions from the sector,” says Francis O’Sullivan, a researcher at the MIT Energy Initiative and the lead author of the study released this week in Environmental Research Letters.

The research comes amidst several other reports on the impact of “fugitive” methane emissions — gas leaked or purposefully vented during and immediately after the stage of shale gas production known as hydraulic fracturing. While many of these reports studied the amount of potential emissions associated with the hydraulic fracturing process, the MIT researchers stress that this is only part of the puzzle. Consideration must also be given to how this gas is handled at the drilling sites, the study shows.

“It’s unrealistic to assume all potential emissions are vented,” O’Sullivan says. “Not least because some states have regulations requiring flaring as a minimum gas-handling method.”

Sergey Paltsev, the study’s co-author and the assistant director for economic research at the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, says companies also have an economic reason for wanting to capture this “fugitive” gas.

“When companies vent and flare methane they are losing gas that they could have captured and sold,” Paltsev says. “When we compared the cost of installing the right equipment to capture this gas to the loss in revenue if it isn’t captured, we found that the majority of shale wells make money by capturing the potential ‘fugitive’ emissions.”

Imagine that: capitalism solved a problem. The rest here.

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