A surge in methane levels in northeastern Pennsylvania, at the centre of the state’s natural gas fracking boom, coincided with a reduction in gas drilling and an increase in production between 2012 and 2015, according to a study published last week in the journal Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene.
“The rapid increase in methane is likely due to the increased production of natural gas from the region, which has increased significantly over the 2012 to 2015 period,” said study author and Drexel University Assistant Professor Peter DeCarlo. “With the increased background levels of methane, the relative climate benefit of natural gas over coal for power production is reduced.”
Methane is a shorter-lived pollutant than carbon dioxide, but it’s a much more potent greenhouse gas during the time it remains active in the atmosphere.
DeCarlo and his team found that methane levels increased from 1,960 to 2,060 parts per million over the three-year period. “Every single background measurement in 2015 is higher than every single measurement in 2012,” he told InsideClimate News. “It’s pretty statistically significant that this increase is happening.”
The research team collected measurements by outfitting a van with air monitoring equipment and driving it around the northeastern part of the state. “They measured what’s called background concentrations of methane and other chemicals in August 2012,” ICN explains. “Researchers used a different van, and took a different driving route, for their monitoring expedition in August 2015.”
The readings showed carbon monoxide levels dropping between 2012 and 2015, possibly reflecting a reduction in truck traffic as well drilling activity declined.