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Ohio Utica Shale

MIT study says methane from fracked wells is comparable to traditional wells

By Bob Downing Published: November 29, 2012

From Bloomberg News on Nov. 28:

By Mark Drajem

Methane released into the air after a natural gas well is tapped by hydraulic fracturing is on par with traditional drilling procedures, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said in a report.

The findings of MIT’s Francis O’Sullivan and Sergey Paltsev are at odds with estimates by Cornell University scientists, who concluded that natural gas produced by fracking can cause more global warming than burning coal.

Drilling companies have an economic interest in capturing the escaping gas, and in some states they are subject to regulations mandating that it be flared, not vented, the study concluded.

"When companies vent and flare methane they are losing gas that they could have captured and sold," Paltsev, the assistant director for economic research at the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, said in a statement.

Methane, a greenhouse gas linked to global warming, is the main component of natural gas. As the fracking process starts to free gas trapped in underground rock, some methane is released. The amount released can offset the global-warming benefits of natural gas over coal, Cornell University researcher Robert Howarth said in a study published last year.

When it is burned to produce electricity, natural gas emits about half the carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, as coal, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas, although it dissipates from the atmosphere more quickly.

Flowback, Venting

The MIT study estimated actual emissions from wells that are fracked, the process in which water, sand and chemicals are shot underground to free trapped gas. Right after a well is fracked there is an initial period, called flowback, when the gas can be vented into the atmosphere or flared off.

Howarth assumed that all the gas is vented, the MIT paper said. "This is an unreasonable assumption, not least because some producing states have regulation requiring flaring as a minimum gas handling measure," Paltsev and O’Sullivan said in their paper.

As a result, they conclude that those initial emissions represent 0.4 percent to 0.6 percent of a well’s estimated ultimate recovery. Howarth said those emissions could be as much as 3.2 percent.

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Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management State agency Web site.

ODNR Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management. State drilling permits. List is updated weekly.

ODNR Division of Geological Survey.

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Ohio State University Extension.

Ohio Farm Bureau.

Ohio Oil and Gas Association, a Granville-based group that represents 1,500 Ohio energy-related companies.

Ohio Oil & Gas Energy Education Program.

Energy In Depth, a trade group.

Marcellus and Utica Shale Resource Center by Ohio law firm Bricker & Eckler.

Utica Shale, a compilation of Utica shale activities.

Landman Report Card, a site that looks at companies involved in gas and oil leases.FracFocus, a compilation of chemicals used in fracking individual wells as reported voluntarily by some drillers.

Chesapeake Energy Corp,the Oklahoma-based firm is the No. 1 driller in Ohio.

Rig Count Interactive Map by Baker Hughes, an energy services company.

Shale Sheet Fracking, a Youngstown Vindicator blog.

National Geographic's The Great Shale Rush.

The Ohio Environmental Council, a statewide eco-group based in Columbus.

Buckeye Forest Council.

Earthjustice, a national eco-group.

Stop Fracking Ohio.

People's Oil and Gas Collaborative-Ohio, a grass-roots group in Northeast Ohio.

Concerned Citizens of Medina County, a grass-roots group.

No Frack Ohio, a Columbus-based grass-roots group.

Fracking: Gas Drilling's Environmental Threat by ProPublica, an online journalism site.

Penn State Marcellus Center.

Pipeline, blog from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Marcellus shale drilling.

Allegheny Front, environmental public radio for Western Pennsylvania.