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UT methane fracking study 'fatally flawed': Cornell scientist


A new report that finds methane emissions from completion operations at hydraulically fractured natural gas wells are dropping dramatically is "fatally flawed" and based on "inadequate" data, the co-author of a landmark Cornell University fracking study said Tuesday.

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"They just need to go out and make more measurements," said Anthony Ingraffea, an engineering professor at Cornell and president of Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy.

Ingraffea and Robert Howarth, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist also at Cornell, in 2011 released a study that said as much as 60% more methane is leaked from a fracked natural gas well than a conventional well and that that gas may be a greater contributor to climate change than coal.

That study appears to be at odds with a University of Texas at Austin study released Monday that said most well completions had equipment in place that caused methane emissions to drop 97% from levels estimated in 2011 by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

But the report also found that emissions from pneumatic devices at well sites were at least 30% higher than EPA's estimates and that pneumatics and equipment leaks account for roughly 40% of total US methane leaks from gas production.

The UT study was the first in a series organized by Environmental Defense Fund aimed at accounting for methane releases throughout the gas supply chain.

Ingraffea criticized the UT study for sampling from only a small sample of the roughly 8,000 natural gas wells fracked in 2012 and only testing at sites at which natural gas production companies agreed to allow measurements.

Nine of the biggest US gas producers, including Anadarko Petroleum, Chevron and Encana, participated in the UT study. Measurements for the UT study were taken at 150 production sites with 489 wells, 27 well-completion flowbacks, nine well unloadings and four well workovers.

Ingraffea called the UT study a "useful start" to answering the question over how much methane is emitted during natural gas production, but said the study looked at less than 1% of total US natural gas production. The study also did not look at emissions from condensation tanks nor drilling operations, according to Seth Shonkoff, executive director of Ingraffea's energy group and an environmental researcher with the University of California at Berkeley.

--Brian Scheid,
--Edited by Jeff Barber,