Across the industry, the technology for stopping leaks can be as simple as fixing seals and gaskets, or it can involve hundreds of millions of dollars of new construction.
“I think it’s totally fixable,” Schnell said. “At least the bigger companies, they are really on top of this.”
Gore added that when companies capture leaking methane, they end up with more to sell. “So there’s an economic incentive to capture it and stop the leaking,” he said.
Another major source of worry is the industry’s practice of burning off, or flaring, natural gas that comes out of the ground as a byproduct of oil drilling. Over the past five years, the U.S. has increased the amount of flared and wasted gas more than any other nation, though Russia still burns off far more than any other country.
In some places, energy companies haven’t invested in the infrastructure needed to capture and process the gas because the oil is more valuable.
In the Bakken Shale oil fields of North Dakota, for example, about 30 percent of the natural gas is flared off because there aren’t enough pipelines yet to carry it away. The amount of gas wasted in the state is estimated at up to $100 million a year. And officials in North Dakota said last month that the situation there might not be completely solved until the end of the decade.
NOAA scientists also say natural gas production has contributed to unusual wintertime smog in the West, particularly in regions surrounded by mountains, and especially in snowy areas. Ozone, the main component in smog, typically forms when sunlight “cooks” a low-lying stew of chemicals such as benzene and engine exhaust. Normally, the process doesn’t happen in cold weather.
But NOAA researchers found that when there’s heavy snowfall, the sun passes through the stew, then bounces off the snow and heats it again on the way back up. In some cases, smog in remote areas has spiked to levels higher than those in New York or Los Angeles.
In open regions that are more exposed to wind, the ozone vanishes, sometimes within hours or a day.
But in Utah basins it can linger for weeks, Schnell said.
Evidence that gas drilling air pollution can be managed – but that more work may still need to be done – comes from north Texas, where the shale gas boom began around Fort Worth about 10 years ago.<< previous 1 2 3 next >>