Remote sensing of fugitive methane emissions from oil and gas production in North American tight geologic formations
In the past decade, there has been a massive growth in the horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing of shale gas and tight oil reservoirs to exploit formerly inaccessible or unprofitable energy resources in rock formations with low permeability. In North America, these unconventional domestic sources of natural gas and oil provide an opportunity to achieve energy self-sufficiency and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions when displacing coal as a source of energy in power plants. However, fugitive methane emissions in the production process may counter the benefit over coal with respect to climate change and therefore need to be well quantified. Here we demonstrate that positive methane anomalies associated with the oil and gas industries can be detected from space and that corresponding regional emissions can be constrained using satellite observations. On the basis of a mass-balance approach, we estimate that methane emissions for two of the fastest growing production regions in the United States, the Bakken and Eagle Ford formations, have increased by 990 ± 650 ktCH4 yr-1 and 530 ± 330 ktCH4 yr-1 between the periods 2006-2008 and 2009-2011. Relative to the respective increases in oil and gas production, these emission estimates correspond to leakages of 10.1% ± 7.3% and 9.1% ± 6.2% in terms of energy content, calling immediate climate benefit into question and indicating that current inventories likely underestimate the fugitive emissions from Bakken and Eagle Ford.