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Methane study: Bakken emits a lot, but maybe less than previously thought

WILLISTON - The Bakken oil and gas field emits 275,000 tons of methane each year, says a new study. The results of the study published Wednesday in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres found that the Bakken is leaking a lot of methane...

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WILLISTON – The Bakken oil and gas field emits 275,000 tons of methane each year, says a new study.

The results of the study published Wednesday in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres found that the Bakken is leaking a lot of methane, but less than some satellites have reported.

“This study provides a key snapshot of Bakken methane emissions that will help answer the bigger questions: how much methane is the U.S. emitting, where is it coming from, and how is that changing over time?” said Jeff Peischl, the study’s lead author and a scientist from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The study, which is the first field study on emissions of the greenhouse gas from the Bakken, involved collecting air samples in May 2014 upwind and downwind of Bakken oil production facilities.

Researchers found the emission rate was significantly less than estimates generated by satellites for the Bakken between 2006 and 2011. The rate of methane emissions also was less than scientists expected to find based on the Environmental Protection Agency’s inventory for petroleum systems, Peischl said.

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The research, which also involves scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is part of an ongoing effort to understand the impact of oil and gas drilling on the atmosphere.

“It gives policy-makers a clearer sense of what exactly the emissions are,” Peischl said. “They can make better informed decisions based on our data.”

The Bakken’s methane emission rate was similar to what researchers found in Colorado’s Denver-Julesburg Basin. Peischl also is analyzing the emission rate of the Eagle Ford in Texas.

Another recent study using data from the same May 2014 field research found that the Bakken emits 250,000 tons of ethane each year, or 2 percent of the globe’s ethane.

The North Dakota Department of Health and the oil industry are working to reduce gas emissions from the Bakken, including reducing methane and ethane emissions.

In addition to looking at oil and gas emissions, researchers also are analyzing methane levels across the country from other sources, such as livestock and coal mining, Peischl said.

“We want to make sure that we know how much is coming from all of the variety of source sectors,” he said.

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