A natural gas well operated by Exxon that blew out in 2018 released a lot more methane than previously believed, a study by a team of U.S. and Dutch scientists concluded.
Bloomberg reports that the study they conducted using satellite imagery showed that the methane emissions following the blast topped what “the oil and gas industries of France, Norway and the Netherlands emit over a 12-month period.”
The well, in Belmont County, Ohio, blew out in February 2018. It leaked for almost three weeks before it was plugged. Local communities had to be evacuated because of the release of natural gas into the atmosphere and environmental groups voiced concern about environmental damage. Now, the results of the study suggest the damage may have been greater than expected.
Methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide but it only recently came to prominence in the media as the push against the oil and gas industry strengthened and the industry began addressing its carbon footprint problem. The methane footprint seems to be a much more serious problem, however.
Another study published earlier this year, for example, found that methane emissions in the United States had spiked because of what many like to call the shale revolution. More specifically, it was gas flaring during oil production in the shale patch that led to a strong increase in methane emissions from the upstream industry.
“Previous studies erroneously concluded that biological sources are the cause of the rising methane,” study author Robert W. Howarth from methane monitoring company GHGSat said. “The commercialization of shale gas and oil in the 21st century has dramatically increased global methane emissions.”
Access to satellite imaging capabilities is proving invaluable to those concerned about the role of methane in climate change.
“Our work demonstrates the strength and effectiveness of routine satellite measurements in detecting and quantifying greenhouse gas emission from unpredictable events,” the authors said. “In this specific case, the magnitude of a relatively unknown yet extremely large accidental leakage was revealed.”