UT Studies Methane Leaks
8:00 pm
Tue October 15, 2013

University of Texas Fracking Study: Results and Politics

Oil fields in the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico, an Apache Energy site where wells were drilled in February last year.
Credit Jim Wilson / nytimes.com

The University of Texas at Austin has been measuring how much methane leaks from natural gas production sites after hydraulic fracturing.  Advocates on both sides of the fracking issue have been waiting for results to back their positions according to the Texas Tribune.

The Texas study concluded that while the total amount of escaped methane from shale-gas operations was substantial — more than one million tons annually — it was probably less than the Environmental Protection Agency estimated in 2011.  Oil and gas industry supporters have seized the results to support their view that the technique is safe and has been overregulated, anti-fracking groups have dismissed the study as industry-funded. 

The New York Times reported the study’s connection to the petroleum industry — among its sponsors and financiers are Shell, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, Exxon Mobil and Chevron — may lead some to question its objectivity, some outside experts said. But most said the research and the reputations of the researchers appear solid.

“Previous studies that have gotten a lot of attention have had red flags jumping out all over them. This one didn’t,” said Michael A. Levi, the director of the program on energy security and climate change at the Council on Foreign Relations. In an e-mailed statement, Shell’s president, Marvin Odum, called the study “a prime example of key groups — that may not have the exact same interests — working collaboratively and taking a science-based approach” to the methane problem.

Mr. Odum said that collecting actual emissions data, rather than relying on estimates, would “ensure that both improvement efforts and regulatory changes can be focused on the areas that will have the biggest impact.”