"...some of my colleagues have actually driven around some of these shale gas plays and they have found that lo and behold, emissions are much higher than industry reports, and higher than the EPA reports. Well that's not a mystery since the EPA is relying on industry estimates, a lot of the times."
That's what NOAA's Lori Bruhwiler reported to the recent AGU Chapman conference on Communicating Climate Science at minute 10:50 in this video the AGU made of her talk. There seems to be a will to believe that the discovery of abundant shale gas is reducing the climate impact of the US energy system compared to if there was no shale gas, no matter how much of it actually is leaking, and no matter that this cheap gas killed the renaissance of an industry that really can produce abundant lower climate impact energy, i.e. US nuclear.
If the methane is still leaking, the US has not achieved any reduction in the climate impact of its energy system by starting this switch to natural gas from coal. And there is little doubt, for those who want to take a look, that the methane is still leaking.
Methane is what the fossil fuel industry sells. Why is leakage still an issue? Natural gas advocates talk as if what is theoretically possible, i.e. creating an infrastructure to use and consume all this gas without leaking enough to the atmosphere that the anticipated climate benefits are nullified, has already happened.
The Government Accountability Office reported that the industry could make money by controlling many of these leaks, years ago and fairly recently, and yet GAO's most recent report found that the leakage continues. When I studied the situation at the time GAO published, what was apparent was that US fossil fuel companies don't believe it is necessary to do anything to contribute to solving a problem they don't believe exists, i.e. climate, so their CEOs direct fresh capital expenditure to exploring for more fossil fuel rather than to minimize methane leakage because the R.O.I. is higher.
This industry thinks all it has to do is tell us, again and again, in their TV ads how great gas is for us than to be seen to be making an effort which they could do by making profitable investments controlling their leaks.
For reference - a bit more on what NOAA's Bruhwiler said at the recent AGU conference. She introduced herself at the recent AGU conference by saying this:
"I'm from the NOAA Earth system research laboratory... global monitoring division. We're the people who, along with our global collaborators, brought you the "400 ppm CO2" [were the source for the widely reported news story] recently. However today... I want to focus on methane....
[ moving along to minute 10:20 ] "...another issue I want to talk about: what the frack is going on with fugitive emissions from fossil fuel production? [ commenting that the news is full of reports that leakage is low ] The EPA... has recently revised their estimates of emissions of methane from fossil fuel exploration and they decreased it...
[ However, at 10:50 ] some of my colleagues have actually driven around some of these shale gas plays and they have found that lo and behold, emissions are much higher than industry reports, and higher than the EPA reports. Well that's not a mystery since the EPA is relying on industry estimates, a lot of the times. [technical discussion] the network data in the assimilation product also suggests that something is going on. If you look at... North America fossil fuel emissions [ measurements of methane in the air over fossil fuel production regions ] and furthermore you look in the winter when the biogenic sources are small... [blah blah blah] ...this suggests that fossil fuel emissions from temperate North America are actually much larger, [more techspeak] and if you go and look to see what sites are producing this kind of difference you can see that for example this site Southern Great Plains in Oklahoma as time goes on it becomes progressively harder to fit our first guess to what the emissions are.... [concludes] this is support for the idea that emissions from the current oil and gas boom are probably underreported.
And an interesting question is, what happens when this technology spreads throughout the world? I've seen some economic analyses that suggest that there's not enough of this shale gas to really make a dent in our long term fossil fuel cumulative emissions, however, I think it remains to be seen whether that ends up to be true. Just recently there were reports that Poland was going to start using hydrofracking. I think emissions all over the world are going to start increasing in this kind of a manner. [i.e. initial enthusiastic denial that so much is leaking until scientists catch up with published peer reviewed studies showing the actual measurements].