Carleton University Report Finds Alberta Methane Gas Emissions are Far Higher than Current Estimates

Environmental Science & Technology Publishes Study by Matthew Johnson

A major new study by Carleton University’s Matthew Johnson and several co-authors in Canada and the United States suggests methane emissions in the Canadian oil and gas sector are significantly higher than currently estimated and reveals critical gaps in current reporting requirements.

The study, published in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology, used an airplane to directly measure methane emissions from two oil and gas production regions and compared these results with current federal estimates and industry reported data.

“There are a number of important takeaways from this work, especially considering current federal and provincial regulatory efforts intended to achieve 45-per-cent cuts in methane emissions from the oil and gas sector,” said Johnson, a professor in Carleton’s Faculty of Engineering and Design, and head of the Energy and Emissions Research Lab within the department of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering.

“Near Lloydminster, on the border between Alberta and Saskatchewan, methane emissions were more than three times higher than best available federal estimates. In the Red Deer region, while federal estimates were close to measured emissions, only 6 per cent of emissions were being captured by current provincial reporting requirements.

With unreported emissions in regions like Red Deer accounting for 94 per cent of total methane emissions, the majority of reductions will need to come from sources such as leaks that may not yet be identified. Upcoming regulations will need to consider this.

The peer-reviewed article was co-authored by Carleton’s David Tyner, Stephen Conley at Scientific Aviation, Stefan Schwietzke at the University of Colorado NOAA ESRL Global Monitoring Division, and Daniel Zavala-Araiza at the Environmental Defense Fund.

The study focuses on 2016 measurements of airborne methane emissions from oil and gas infrastructure in Red Deer and Lloydminster, Alberta and compares them with industry-reported flaring and venting volumes and estimates of unreported sources.

A copy of the report is available here: http://pubs.acs.org/journal/esthag.

Extended across Alberta, Johnson’s results suggest that reported venting emissions should be 2.5 times higher, and total methane emissions are probably at least 25 to 50 per cent greater than current government estimates.

Johnson’s results suggest a need for policies to address the reporting gap as these sources represent significant methane reduction opportunities. The article also suggests further investigations are warranted in other production regions of Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia. Johnson is contributing to two other closely related articles using site-by-site ground-based measurements to further understand emission sources and identity mitigation opportunities.

The report was sponsored by Natural Resources Canada, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Environmental Defense Fund.

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