B.C. lowballing fugitive methane emissions from natural gas industry

This was first published at Corporate Knights. I have added in this re-post some footnotes with details of calculations along with comments and references below the main article. I have also done a rough estimation of the emissions associated with the addition of one 18 million tonne per year LNG project (excluding end-use emissions) and the effect that this will have on BC’s emissions targets.

Photo by Jesús Rodríguez Fernández (creative commons)

The push by British Columbia to develop a new liquefied natural gas (LNG) export industry raises questions about the impact such activities would have on greenhouse gas emissions, both within the province and globally.

One of the single most important factors relates to the amount of methane and carbon dioxide that gets released into the atmosphere, either deliberately through venting or by accident as so-called fugitive emissions. Fugitive emissions are the result of valves and meters that release, by design, small quantities of gas. But they can also come from faulty equipment and from operators that fail to follow regulations.

According to the B.C. Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report 2012, there were 78,000 tonnes of fugitive methane emissions [1] from the oil and natural gas industry that year. B.C. produced 41 billion cubic metres of gas in 2012 [2]. This means about 0.28 per cent of the gas produced was released into the atmosphere [3].

By North American standards, this is a very low estimate. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses a figure of 1.5 per cent leakage [4], more than five times higher. Recent research led by the U.S. non-profit group, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), shows that even the EPA estimates may be too low by a factor of 1.5 [5]. B.C.’s estimate, in other words, would be about one-eighth of what has been estimated for the American gas industry.
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Fracking 3: Quantity has a quality all of its own

The essential characteristic of shale gas is that the resource volume is often huge and the magnitude and effort required to extract it is correspondingly enormous. What attracts the fossil fuel companies is the same thing that alarms people living near the shale gas resource. It worries those of us who are concerned about dangerous climate change, as well.

In 2013, the British Geological Survey (BGS) published an assessment on the gas resources of the Bowland Shale in northern England. They concluded that the median gas-in-place resource was 1329 trillion cubic feet. To put this in perspective, this is about 16 times the amount of gas produced  from the UK North Sea over 50 years. The BGS did not estimate the recoverable gas resource, because they considered that the recovery factors are too uncertain to quantify.

How much drilling would it take to exploit this resource?

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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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Fugitive methane emissions in BC: correspondence with Ministry of Environment

An email discussion with environmental journalist Stephen Leahy prompted me to look into the amount of fugitive methane emissions from the natural gas industry in NE British Columbia.  The data on various BC Government websites are not easy to reconcile, so, on March 18th  2013,  I wrote an enquiry on the query form provided at the website of the BC Ministry of Environment.

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Living in Denial in Canada

Originally posted at Skeptical Science.

In an earlier article, I reviewed sociologist Kari Norgaard’s book Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions and Everyday Life in which she records the response of rural Norwegians to climate change. She analyzes the contradictory feelings Norwegians experience in reconciling their life in a wealthy country that is at once a major producer and consumer of fossil fuels and, at the same time, has a reputation of being a world leader in its concern for the environment, human development, and international peace.

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