Articles | Volume 17, issue 20
Research article
19 Oct 2017
Research article |  | 19 Oct 2017

Mobile measurement of methane emissions from natural gas developments in northeastern British Columbia, Canada

Emmaline Atherton, David Risk, Chelsea Fougère, Martin Lavoie, Alex Marshall, John Werring, James P. Williams, and Christina Minions

Abstract. North American leaders recently committed to reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, but information on current emissions from upstream oil and gas developments in Canada are lacking. This study examined the occurrence of methane plumes in an area of unconventional natural gas development in northwestern Canada. In August to September 2015 we completed almost 8000 km of vehicle-based survey campaigns on public roads dissecting oil and gas infrastructure, such as well pads and processing facilities. We surveyed six routes 3–6 times each, which brought us past over 1600 unique well pads and facilities managed by more than 50 different operators. To attribute on-road plumes to oil- and gas-related sources we used gas signatures of residual excess concentrations (anomalies above background) less than 500 m downwind from potential oil and gas emission sources. All results represent emissions greater than our minimum detection limit of 0.59 g s−1 at our average detection distance (319 m). Unlike many other oil and gas developments in the US for which methane measurements have been reported recently, the methane concentrations we measured were close to normal atmospheric levels, except inside natural gas plumes. Roughly 47 % of active wells emitted methane-rich plumes above our minimum detection limit. Multiple sites that pre-date the recent unconventional natural gas development were found to be emitting, and we observed that the majority of these older wells were associated with emissions on all survey repeats. We also observed emissions from gas processing facilities that were highly repeatable. Emission patterns in this area were best explained by infrastructure age and type. Extrapolating our results across all oil and gas infrastructure in the Montney area, we estimate that the emission sources we located (emitting at a rate > 0.59 g s−1) contribute more than 111 800 t of methane annually to the atmosphere. This value exceeds reported bottom-up estimates of 78 000 t of methane for all oil and gas sector sources in British Columbia. Current bottom-up methods for estimating methane emissions do not normally calculate the fraction of emitting oil and gas infrastructure with thorough on-ground measurements. However, this study demonstrates that mobile surveys could provide a more accurate representation of the number of emission sources in an oil and gas development. This study presents the first mobile collection of methane emissions from oil and gas infrastructure in British Columbia, and these results can be used to inform policy development in an era of methane emission reduction efforts.

Short summary
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and leaks from natural gas infrastructure are thought to be a significant emission source. We used a mobile survey method to measure GHGs near Canadian infrastructure. Our results show that ~ 47 % of active wells were emitting. Abandoned and aging wells were also associated with emissions. We estimate methane emissions from this development are just over 111 Mt year−1, which is more than previous government estimates, but less than similar studies in the US.
Final-revised paper