Resolution of Top Down with Bottom Up Estimates of Gas Field Methane Leakage

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Wednesday, 7 January 2015
W.F.J. Evans, North West Research Associates, Redmond, WA

In situ engineering measurements of natural gas well sites indicate leakage rates with a mean rate of 1.5% of the gas production rate from individual wells. These have been made at several gas basins using in situ measurements. These in situ engineering measurements are reported as the fugitive emission rates to the UNCCC by the EPA. On the other hand, atmospheric measurements at altitudes above the surface by several atmospheric groups indicate that gas fields are leaking at an average rate of over 9 %. Papers have been published in several highly reputable journals by government and university scientists. Both groups have been criticizing the methodologies of the opposite group. We propose that a more likely explanation is that both groups are correct. Although this appears as a direct conflict with one group on each side, a careful analysis shows that the two groups are measuring different air parcels. This is the only explanation which will explain the apparent conflicting situation. This can be understood if the basins in which the wells are sited are actually leaking from the bed rock formations in which the wells are drilled. If the geology of the natural gas basins is examined in detail, then the situation becomes understandable. Many basins contain gas in fault traps. These faults often leak, particularly if there is a small earthquake. The leaks can follow tilted layers, resulting in vertical transport of gas along the slanted layer cracks. This leakage may emerge into the atmosphere at large distances from the actual gas well under measurement. Fracking can obviously increase the leakage from a valley gas field. The methane leaks could alter the budgets of greenhouse gases reported by various gas producing countries by significant amounts. The potential increases and altered budgets for various countries as reported to the UNCCC are estimated and reported in this presentation. The fraction of these unreported leaks which should be reported will have to wait for the development of appropriate methodologies to determine how much of the observed leakage is natural and how much is due to natural gas exploitation.