There’s big press lately about the methane-release study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and led by good people at the University of Texas. From the headlines you’d think things are looking up for the fracking industry, but upon closer inspection, it’s clear that is not the case.
As noted in the paper:
A large emissions decrease associated with completion flowbacks is partially offset by emission increases from pneumatic controllers and equipment leaks.
In the end, the paper concludes that EPA estimates of total methane emissions from fracking sources under study are about 10 per cent higher than what the authors’ results show. But uncertainty (due to normal things like measurement error, averaging methods, etc.) in the results is about 20%. The problem is that if the uncertainty is greater than the difference, then one cannot conclude there is a difference.
The authors conclude, unsurprisingly, that more study is necessary. This work might well carry them through their entire careers. And well it should, because these wells will be around for many decades; centuries, in fact. What can be said about the long-term emissions from these wells without long-term study? So, job well done, and keep up the good work!