Fugitive emissions from BC’s natural gas industry

The environmental consequences of the expanded development of unconventional gas in North Eastern British Columbia, as laid out by Tyler Bryant and Matt Horne in The Tyee, include: risks of groundwater contamination from fracking; water use; the provision of electricity; the triggering of earthquakes; and the industrialisation of the landscape over large swaths of the NE of the Province. Apart from the emissions released by end use of the gas,  the largest single environmental impact—certainly the largest global impact—is likely to stem from leaks and deliberate venting of greenhouse gases during the production and transportation of the natural gas. Unfortunately, this is also one of the most poorly quantified risks.

According to British Columbia’s Ministry of Environment, about 108,000 metric tons of methane are being released into the atmosphere every year by the oil and gas industry. These emissions come from deliberate venting and through unintentional leaks—also known as fugitive emissions—from pipelines, wells and processing plants. While this sounds like a lot, according to the Ministry it only amounts to 0.3% of the total amount of natural gas produced in BC in 2011. However, compared to estimated leakage rates in the gas industry of the United States, which range widely from about 1 to 8%, these estimates are very low outliers. Even the lowest of the US estimates is three times as large as the BC figures.

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