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Report: Utah's Low-Producing Wells Emit Half of Methane Emissions


Tuesday, April 26, 2022   

A new study found low-producing oil and gas wells make up about half the methane emitted from all well sites in the U.S., while accounting for just 6% of the nation's oil and gas production.

Led by the Environmental Defense Fund, the report found an estimated 565,000 low-producing sites making less than 15 barrels of oil per day across the country, with a significant number of them in Utah and across the Mountain West.

Mark Omara, senior analyst for the Environmental Defense Fund and the report's author, said the high amount of methane leaks -- about four-million metric tons annually -- is a major climate concern.

"This matters a great deal because methane, which is the main component of natural gas, is such a powerful greenhouse gas," Omara explained. "With its emissions into the atmosphere packs more than 80 times the global warming effect of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years following emissions."

The Environmental Protection Agency proposed new regulations last year to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas industry. The update to the Clean Air Act is aimed at making significant, cost-effective reductions in methane emissions and other air pollutants.

Ben Abbot, assistant professor of environmental science at Brigham Young University, said parts of Utah have some of the worst air pollution in the country, and much of the methane problem can be attributed to small oil and gas operations in the northeast part of the state.

"That is directly responsible for the high concentrations of ozone that have been observed throughout the Uinta Basin, which is pretty rural," Abbot pointed out. "But also, some of that bleeds over into the Wasatch Front, the most populated area in Utah."

Abbott thinks it would be better if the oil companies would clean up their well sites rather than wait for state and federal regulators to force their hands.

"I guess we pick our poison," Abbott stated. "Either we can get our ducks in a row with state-level requirements and clean up the extraction, or the EPA punitive regulations are going to kick into action if these areas can't clean up the pollution."

He added many of the wells in Utah have been abandoned and need to be capped, while those still in production need to capture methane before it leaks into the atmosphere.

Disclosure: The Environmental Defense Fund's Energy Transition Program contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, Environment, and Public Lands/Wilderness. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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