Ohio's Low-Producing Wells Leave Huge Methane Footprint

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A 2019 blowout at an Ohio fracking well released an estimated 60,000 tons of methane gas. - (Ohio State Highway Patrol)
(Ohio State Highway Patrol)
A 2019 blowout at an Ohio fracking well released an estimated 60,000 tons of methane gas.

They account for a minuscule amount of U.S. oil and gas production, but new research found low-producing oil and gas wells have a large methane footprint.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas responsible for at least one-quarter of current global warming. According to the report, the country's 565,000 low-production well sites are responsible for a combined four million metric tons of methane, or nearly half of all U.S. methane emissions.

Tracy Sabetta, an organizer for Moms Clean Air Force in Ohio, explained a huge share, 30%, comes from the Appalachian Basin, which includes Ohio.

"With Ohio having as many oil and gas producing wells as we do, it is a pollutant that we just can't ignore," Sabetta asserted. "In fact, our state has the second-highest number of individuals who live within a half-mile of an oil and natural gas producing facility."

The study is published in the journal Nature Communications. The Environmental Protection Agency is considering new standards to reduce oil and gas methane emissions, but operators producing lower emissions would be exempt.

Mark Omara, senior analyst for the Environmental Defense Fund and the study's lead author, said the bulk of emissions from low-production natural gas sites is the result of prolonged negligence by operators.

"Rusted pipes from which leaks occur, pressure-relief valves that malfunction, open-thief hatches on tanks that continue to vent," Omara outlined. "All of these issues can be fixed via regular monitoring and leak inspection and repair."

Sabetta suggested it is in the best interest of the oil and gas industry to address methane leaks, as about 10% of low-production well sites are less than 10 years old.

"If you look at prices from 2019, there's more than $700 million in wasted natural gas," Sabetta pointed out. "That is enough to supply over 3.6 million homes in the U.S. annually, or to power every single home in Ohio."

An earlier analysis by the Environmental Defense Fund found the vast majority of low-production wells are owned by major companies with the financial resources to reduce energy waste.
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