From NASA’s press release:
‘The study’s lead author, Eric Kort of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, noted the study period (2003-2009 + 2012) predates the widespread use of hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, near the hot spot. This indicates the methane emissions should not be attributed to fracking …’
Actually, coalbed methane wells are, and were, fracked. A 2004 Environmental Protection Agency study delved into the practice, and included a detailed look at fracking CBM wells in the San Juan Basin. Approximately 2,500 coal bed methane wells were operating in the basin in 2001, it says, and ‘almost every well has been fracture-stimulated, using either conventional hydraulic fracturing in perforated casing or cavitation cycling in open holes.’ It’s a fascinating read, particularly for those who think fracking is a newcomer to the energy world.
… So what’s the cause? Leaks, says Kort, the study’s author. A bunch of leaks. From wells, from pipelines, from processing plants, maybe even from the coalbeds themselves, where they broach the surface. Nearly one trillion cubic feet of natural gas, i.e. methane, is sucked out of the basin every year, and it all flows through infrastructure that has been around for years, maybe decades, developing fissures, cracks, pinholes, loose valves or the like. Add the sum of all those leaks to the other emissions in the basin, from coal mining, power plants, hydraulic fracturing, drilling and cars and trucks, and it’s hardly surprising that the place is a methane hotspot.
The region’s entire fossil fuel industry, which is immense, is to blame.
It’s a discouraging conclusion. If there was just one culprit, such as hydraulic fracturing or coal mine venting, a solution would have been conceivable, if politically challenging to achieve. But if, indeed, thousands upon thousands of tiny leaks and fugitive emissions are to blame, spread out among that dazzling array of infrastructure and equipment, how does one even begin to tackle the issue?
Over the last few years, coal bed methane and other natural gas drilling in the San Juan Basin has been on a sort of hiatus, waiting out the current price slump.
But the boom’s bouncing back in the form of fracking-intensive oil drilling in the Mancos Shale. A new wave of drilling will be accompanied by more pipelines, more infrastructure and maybe more leaks. The Four Corners could be a hot spot for years to come.