EPA not telling the whole story

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By Rebekah Williams

Methane levels from hydraulic fracturing are 1,000 times higher than previously believed

With 13 coauthors from several research institutions and universities, a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences(PNAS) is raising doubts over the credibility of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) findings on the amount of methane released from hydraulic fracturing wells.

The EPA, a federal government agency, was created for the purpose of protecting human health and the environment.

In the last few years, the agency has taken a special interest in monitoring increasing methane levels resulting from hydraulic fracturing.

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as hydrofracking or merely fracking, is a technique that utilizes high pressure, creating cracks in the earth to obtain natural gas.

This has resulted in the release of disputed levels of methane gas into the air and drinking water.

Second only to carbon dioxide, methane is one of the most prevalent gases resulting from human activities.

According to the EPA’s website, “Pound for pound, the comparative impact of methane on climate change is over 20 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period.”

Methane emissions currently account for 9 percent of the world’s greenhouse emissions, and is continuing to rise.

Thus, as the earth continues to warm and weather patterns become more erratic, researchers have begun pointing fingers, and the merits of fracking have been called into question.

In light of the new research published by PNAS, fracking isn’t the only thing under scrutiny.

Researchers also measured the airborne methane in southwestern Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale.

Flying over an area that includes several natural gas wells, they took snapshots of the 2,800 square kilometer area for a two-day period.

The researchers detected between two and 14 grams of methane per second per square kilometer. The EPA’s estimate was between 2.3 and 4.6 grams per second.

Further research found that well pads in the Marcellus shale formation are emitting, on average, 34 grams of methane per second.

However, the EPA previously estimated that this drilling released between 0.04 and 0.3 grams per second. These numbers are up to 1,000 times higher than EPA estimates.

Most interestingly, the wells producing the higher level of emissions were those that were drilled for production but had not yet been used for fracking.

The high levels of methane may be a result of drilling through coal, which is likely since fracking sites in the Marcellus shale are commonly located over coal beds.

Concerns over fracking have been voiced in New York state, as well. The Marcellus shale, which covers a good portion of Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio, also extends across most of western upstate New York, encompassing the entirety of the Finger Lakes region.

The impacts, most specifically water contamination, have been a major concern to residents of this area.

“People who go out and actually measure methane pretty consistently find more emissions than we expect. Atmospheric tests covering the entire country indicate emissions around 50 percent more than EPA estimates, and that’s a moderate estimate,” said Adam Brandt of Stanford University, a lead researcher on the effects of natural gas processing.

This study isn’t the only cause for concern. Just last month, a series of small but abnormal earthquakes in northeastern Ohio were reported, which geologists say likely stemmed from nearby fracking operations. Similar concerns have been raised in Texas and Oklahoma.

With such evidence arising and more concerns being raised, the future of hydraulic fracturing remains uncertain.

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