More than 85% of natural active gas wells tested in the northeastern part of British Columbia are venting significant amounts of methane, says a David Suzuki Foundation study released on Jan. 31.
The results suggest the provincial government has underreported fugitive emissions from B.C.’s oil and gas industry.
The report estimates the rate of flow from vents at 49 wells surveyed in August 2015. It found methane venting at a rate of more than 27 m3 a day on average for each well. That’s just under 10,000 m3 annually per well.
Considering that there are roughly 13,000 active gas wells in B.C., the report estimates these wells alone could be emitting around 111,000,000 m3 of methane per year, or 83,000 metric tons.
The B.C. Ministry of Environment & Climate Change Strategy estimates total fugitive methane emissions from the oil and gas industry at about 78,000 metric tons in 2012, the latest year for which figures are available.
“That’s for all oil and gas infrastructure for all the province,” emphasizes John Werring, senior science and policy advisor to the foundation and the report’s lead researcher. “Our estimates are much greater, and they are just for gas well sites.” The province does not publish an estimate just for gas wells.
The foundation’s researchers used infrared cameras to identify plumes of methane escaping from vents on buildings housing pneumatic control devices designed to control the flow of methane. Then they measured volumes by placing balloons over the leaks.
B.C.’s New Democratic Party, backed by the Green Party, has promised to expand its carbon tax to include fugitive emissions. Currently, the tax applies only to direct emissions from the use of fossil fuels.
According to the B.C. Oil & Gas Commission, the provincial regulatory agency overseeing the industry, the oil and gas sector accounts for 18% of overall B.C.’s emissions of carbon dioxide and methane.
“The B.C. Oil & Gas Commission has already been working on initiatives that were recommended in the report, including developing a broader field-sample program to better quantify methane emissions, and fugitive emission management plans,” says Commission spokesperson Phil Rygg.
Meanwhile, the federal government is seeking comment on draft regulations to control methane emissions, with final regulations expected later this year.