Study: Bakken Leaking Less Methane Than Originally Thought

The Bakken unconventional oil and gas play in North Dakota is leaking less methane than previously estimated, according to a new study from the University of Colorado at Boulder (UC-Boulder).

Researchers concluded that the Bakken is emitting 275,000 tons of methane each year, similar to the emission rate for Colorado’s Denver-Julesburg Basin.  The rate is significantly less than estimates generated by satellites for the Bakken region between 2006 and 2011.

The study was conducted in May 2014; at that time, the Bakken accounted for 12.5 percent of all crude oil produced in the United States. The researchers conducted the study by flying an instrumented Twin Otter aircraft upwind and downwind of production facilities in the Bakken, and calculated the region’s total methane emissions using a technique called mass balance, according to a May 11 press statement jointly release by UC-Boulder’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Services (CIRES) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA owns the plane used in the test.

Researchers then evaluated the chemical composition of the air samples to determine if methane captured during the flights came from oil and gas operations or other activities, such as livestock feedlots. The found the majority of methane captured came from oil and gas activity.

The study, published May 11 in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmosphere, is one of several being conducted to understand the atmospheric impact of oil and gas drilling across the United States. This effort has revealed major differences in emission rates among regions and different kinds of oil and gas basins.

UC-Boulder has been involved with many of these types of airborne studies, Jeff Peischl, lead author of the study, told Rigzone in an email statement.  These studies kicked off in 2012 with the Uinta Basin, the Denver-Julesburg Basin and the Barnett shale. Peischl said he has also looked at the Marcellus, Fayetteville, Haynesville, and now the Bakken.

The rise in hydraulic fracturing in the United States also has brought greater scrutiny of methane emissions from shale activity. One goal of the Obama administration has been to slash methane emissions by 40 to 45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025. Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported it was finalizing new regulations to reduce methane emissions from new and existing sources in U.S. oil and gas operations. The regulations are part of a bilateral agreement announced in March by President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Karen Boman has more than 10 years of experience covering the upstream oil and gas sector. Email Karen at kboman@rigzone.com

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J. T. Drake | May. 17, 2016
How is it determined that the methane came from oil and gas activities and not natural leakage/seepage? I would think that most discriminating indicators would be the same for both. Since some basins are more leaky than others, this might explain some of the variations that have been observed.


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