Huge amounts of methane are leaking from a Utah gas field

A study finds that the EPA vastly underestimated the amount of methane entering the atmosphere

Topics: Methane, fracking, Utah, EPA, greenhouse gas,

Huge amounts of methane are leaking from a Utah gas fieldA research aircraft comes in for a landing in Vernal, Utah. Sensitive instruments aboard let CIRES and NOAA researchers measure atmospheric levels of methane­ and other chemicals during flights through Utah's Uintah.(Credit: Sonja Wolter/CIRES and NOAA)

A Utah gas field, researchers  from the University of Colorado, Boulder, the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found, is emitting methane at a rate of 6.2 to 11.7 percent, vastly overshooting the EPA’s estimate of .88 percent.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a cornerstone of Obama’s climate plan, which favors natural gas over carbon fuel. Whether it’s helping or hurting the environment is up for debate, and largely depends on how much methane — a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide — leaks into the atmosphere as a byproduct of drilling. The EPA says it’s not that much, and in fact caused a minor controversy in April when the agency revised its estimates of how much methane is leaking from natural gas wells. Tighter pollution controls, it said, have led to an average annual decrease of leakage from 41.6 million metric tons of methane emissions from 1990 through 2010 — a 20 percent reduction from previous estimates.



These new findings, which will be published in the journal Geophysical Research Levels, aren’t representative of all methane leaks. For one thing,  say the researchers, Utah is relatively lax compared to other states in its regulations for leak-proofing wells. They also weren’t able to pinpoint exactly where the emissions were coming from. But they say that their method, which involved flying over the Uinta Basin and using “relatively cheap, portable technology” to measure total methane emission, could be a good way to double-check EPA estimates and for gas companies to monitor themselves.

Lindsay Abrams

Lindsay Abrams is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email labrams@salon.com.

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 10
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Romance novels need a canon

    "Bet Me" by Jennifer Crusie

    A contemporary romantic comedy set to Elvis Costello and lots of luxurious and sinful sugary treats.   Read the whole essay.

    Romance novels need a canon

    "Welcome to Temptation" by Jennifer Crusie

    Another of Crusie's romantic comedies, this one in the shadow of an ostentatiously phallic water tower.   Read the whole essay.

    Romance novels need a canon

    "A Gentleman Undone" by Cecilia Grant

    A Regency romance with beautifully broken people and some seriously steamy sex.   Read the whole essay.

    Romance novels need a canon

    "Black Silk" by Judith Ivory

    A beautifully written, exquisitely slow-building Regency; the plot is centered on a box with some very curious images, as Edward Gorey might say.   Read the whole essay.

    Romance novels need a canon

    "For My Lady's Heart" by Laura Kinsale

    A medieval romance, the period piece functions much like a dystopia, with the courageous lady and noble knight struggling to find happiness despite the authoritarian society.   Read the whole essay.

    Romance novels need a canon

    "Sweet Disorder" by Rose Lerner

    A Regency that uses the limitations on women of the time to good effect; the main character is poor and needs to sell her vote ... or rather her husband's vote. But to sell it, she needs to get a husband first ...   Read the whole essay.

    Romance novels need a canon

    "Frenemy of the People" by Nora Olsen

    Clarissa is sitting at an awards banquet when she suddenly realizes she likes pictures of Kimye for both Kim and Kanye and she is totally bi. So she texts to all her friends, "I am totally bi!" Drama and romance ensue ... but not quite with who she expects. I got an advanced copy of this YA lesbian romance, and I’d urge folks to reserve a copy; it’s a delight.   Read the whole essay.

    Romance novels need a canon

    "The Slightest Provocation" by Pam Rosenthal

    A separated couple works to reconcile against a background of political intrigue; sort of "His Gal Friday" as a spy novel set in the Regency.   Read the whole essay.

    Romance novels need a canon

    "Again" by Kathleen Gilles Seidel

    Set among workers on a period soap opera, it manages to be contemporary and historical both at the same time.   Read the whole essay.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...