Oil and gas wells accounting for just 6% of U.S. extraction are the source of nearly half its methane pollution, a study published Tuesday in Nature Communications found. The half a million “marginal wells” extracting less than the equivalent of 15 barrels of oil per day release methane pollution — through intentional venting and leaks and equipment malfunctions — equivalent to the climate impact of 88 coal-fired power plants. Methane, the primary ingredient in what the industry calls “natural gas” traps 80 times more heat in the atmosphere than CO2 over a 20 year timeframe. It also leaves the atmosphere faster, making immediate action to cut methane pollution the most efficient way to limit near-term global warming.
The study also found “equipment negligence and disrepair” were common at the well sites, highlighting the opportunity for significant pollution cuts simply by implementing leak monitoring and site inspections. Marginal wells accounted for about one-fifth of Texas’s extraction, Texas regulators said in July 2021. Though not addressed in the study, the findings are not inconsistent with the trend of oil majors, which have supported methane regulations (contrary to smaller oil and gas firms) selling off oil and gas assets to private equity firms. (E&E News, Reuters, Bloomberg $)