Oil and gas fracking doesn't draw the same attention in Canada as it has attracted in the United States. It's probably fair to say that most of us hardly think of it at all. That could be about to change.
Two new studies into fracking operations in western Canada show that fracking generally and the LNG industry in particular are far dirtier, leaking massively more methane, than we had been led to believe.
A peer-reviewed study appearing in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussions used measurements in the field to estimate that methane emissions from B.C.’s shale gas basins are now at least 2.5 times higher than provincial government estimates.
That makes the oil and gas sector the largest source of climate pollution in B.C., a greater source of pollution than commercial transportation.
Based on measurements from mobile methane detectors driven around in a Dodge truck, the study found that just the drilling part of the industry in the B.C. portion of the Montney Formation, a 29,850 square-kilometre siltstone area in Western Canada, is releasing 111,800 tonnes of methane a year into the atmosphere.
That is equivalent to burning more than 4.5 million tonnes of coal or putting more than two million cars on the road. Half of B.C.’s fracked gas currently comes from the Montney. The study did not look at methane leaks from pipelines or gas processing plants.
All LNG environmental assessments in the province to date have used a questionable methane leakage rate of 0.28 per cent estimated by the B.C. government — one of the lowest rates on the continent.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calculates that most natural gas operations lose about 1.33 per cent of their product, while some sites have recorded leakage rates as high as nine per cent. Leakage rates above three per cent make methane as dirty as coal in terms of direct impact on climate change.
But Wait, There's More
To back up its case, the environmental group reviewed the findings of a 2017 study by the Alberta Energy Regulator and GreenPath Energy, which found that “the actual emissions at oil and gas facilities from pneumatic devices are 60 per cent higher than estimates used to compile Canada’s GHG inventory.”
Pneumatic devices, mostly powered by methane, help to pump and control the flow of gas from well sites and other facilities. Most vent methane directly to the atmosphere too.
The GreenPath Energy study measured leaks from pneumatic devices at 395 sites and almost 700 wells at six locations in Alberta and identified 77 major leaks via infrared cameras and direct methane vents from 236 pieces of equipment. GreenPath Energy is a Calgary-based company that specializes in managing greenhouse gas emissions.
The researchers found that 95 per cent of the pneumatic devices at conventional oil and gas facilities vented methane and other gases such as benzene. Oil well sites leaked the most methane.
If you're not conversant with the fracking process and perils, this video may help.