Field assistant Makz Werring places an inflatable balloon on the vent pipe of a well suspended in 2010l to measure the flow of gas. Pressure and volume of methane being vented is enough to quickly inflate the condom
Photo Credit: John Werring

New study finds much higher methane release from oil and gas fracking

The environmental “footprint” of fracking and the oil and gas industry is about to change dramatically, and not for the better.

A new study by the environmental group David Suzuki Foundation and St Francis Xavier University, shows about 50 percent of wells are either leaking or deliberately venting, methane which is an extremely potent greenhouse gas.

Ian Bruce is the Director of Science and Policy at the David Suzuki Foundation, a non-profit environmental and conservation group.

Ian Bruce, Director of Science and Policy, David Suzuki Foundation ©  DSF

A study of a variety of about 1600 oil and fracked gas sites in north-eastern British Columbia says methane emissions are two-and-a half times greater than what the industry has been estimating and reporting.

The study was published in the science journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physic under the title, “Mobile measurement of methane emissions from natural gas developments in Northeastern British Columbia, Canada”  (HERE)

This research is the first ground-based measurement of methane emissions ever conducted in Canada. Scientists travelled more than 8,000 kilometres using vehicle-mounted gas-detection instruments (a sniffer truck), covering more than 1,600 well pads and facilities in B.C.’s Montney formation

Active oil well that appears to have suffered a blow out. The ground around the wellhead is soaked with oil and wellhead and attached pipes are wrapped in plastic sheathing
Active oil well that appears to have suffered a blow out. The ground around the wellhead is soaked with oil and wellhead and attached pipes are wrapped in plastic sheathing © John Werring

Equivalent to 4.5 million tonnes of coal, or two million more cars

The fact that the methane emissions are so much higher than currently reported is important as methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

According to the Suzuki Foundation, the study shows that B.C.’s Montney region alone leaks more than 111,800 tonnes of methane into the air every year. This is the climate pollution equivalent of burning more than 4.5 million tonnes of coal or putting more than two million cars on the road.

Montney formation oil and gas field in Alberta and northeastern British Columbia ©

The group Environmental Defence also released a report this week showing that Alberta’s methane emissions are also much higher than is being reported.

Bruce says that based on the new standard of a 20-year time frame, methane is some 84 times more potent than C02.

Using the latest technology the researchers visited a variety of wells, either still operating, suspended, or capped and abandoned.

Bruce says in some cases they detected leaks, while in others there was simply venting of methane.Easy fix-the technology exists

While he says this is a very significant source of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, the technology already exists to vastly reduce these types of emissions.

Some of the vehicle-based detection and analysis equipment used to measure methane leakage from a variety of oil and gas sites. © David Risk (PhD) Flux Lab,, St Francis Xavier University

What’s lacking is regulation and inspection.

He says he hopes this report will spur governments at both the federal and provincial levels, to see the gravity of the situation and quickly act to create and enforce stricter rules.

David Suzuki Foundation- website-press release


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