Study: Low-Production Oil Wells Cause 50% of Methane Emissions

Low-production oil and gas wells are responsible for about half of the methane emitted from all U.S. well sites, despite accounting for 6% of the nation’s total production, according to a new study released this week.

the studyPosted in Nature Communicationis the first comprehensive review of emissions from low-production well sites nationwide, the researchers said. The paper found that low-production or “marginal” wells emit methane at a rate 6 to 12 times the national average – releasing some 4 million metric tons of the powerful greenhouse gas per year.

“Our research shows that the total methane emitted from the country’s half-million low-production wells has the same climate impact each year as 88 coal-fired power plants,” said Defense Fund scientist Mark Omara. environment and main author. , in a report.

Omara said methane emissions from low-production well sites can come from sources common to all oil and gas operations, including intentional emissions broken down as well as unintentional emissions like those from equipment malfunctions. Marginal wells produce less than 15 barrels of oil equivalent per day, according to the study.

Yesterday, EDF said the EPA’s draft methane rules released in November omitted many smaller well sites from regular monitoring. The organization warned that the agency risked overlooking a large source of methane.

“EPA’s proposal is an important step by the agency toward addressing methane pollution generally at oil and gas facilities, but based on this study, we leave much of the potential emissions reductions on the table if the EPA does not globally require inspections and repair of leaks at smaller sites,” Rosalie Winn, EDF’s senior counsel, said in a call with reporters. .

Timothy Carroll, a spokesman for the EPA, said the agency had received the information contained in the Nature study during the public comment period on the November proposal.

“We are considering this, along with any other comments we have received, as we develop an additional proposal, which the Agency expects to release later this year,” Carroll said in a statement sent yesterday.

EDF’s Omara said the study supports the need to include low-production well sites “as part of any effective mitigation strategy” for oil and gas methane emissions.

Environmental groups have long opposed exemptions for low-production wells, which oil and gas companies, along with trade associations and some state regulators, have lobbied the EPA for in recent years (climate wireApril 6).

Last year, for example, Texas energy and environmental regulators mentioned the Obama administration’s 2016 rule was “particularly onerous for stripping and marginal well operators.”

“The effect that the cost of detecting and monitoring leaks will have on marginal wells that represent about 20% of Texas production is of particular concern,” says the letter, signed by the executive directors of the Texas Railroad Commission. and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, dated July 30, 2021 (thread of energyAugust 5, 2021).

Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, said yesterday that if the EPA does not grant an exemption for marginal wells, “its planned regulation later this year will render them unprofitable, shutting down up to 8% of American production.

“At a time when we need more, not less, U.S. production, this is yet another policy path the administration has taken to keep energy prices high for consumers.” , Sgamma said in a statement.

Sgamma and a spokesperson for the Independent Petroleum Association of America questioned the study because it came from the Environmental Defense Fund.

“The current energy reality is that specifically targeting small US producers with sweeping new regulations is the wrong approach when pump prices are at record highs and the Biden administration is calling on industry to expand domestic production,” said Jennifer Pett, an IPAA. spokesperson, in a press release.

Yet EDF research indicated that around 75% of marginal wells are owned by large companies “which each operate more than a hundred different facilities and have sufficient resources”.

Both Sgamma and Pett pointed to an unfinished study from the Department of Energy and the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) on methane emissions from marginal wells.

According to NETL’s webpage, a draft final report was delivered to the lab on December 6, 2021, and is currently under review for public release.