by Scott Roberts
Some secrets are hard to keep while other things, like the USA’s improved air quality, seem to be secrets in spite of themselves. Yet, according to the EPA, the air is much, much better. For instance, 60% less of the 6 main pollutants (ozone, PM2.5, PM10, lead, NO2, CO, and SO2) in 2008 compared to 1970. In contrast, over the same period, population and energy consumption grew by 45% and miles driven increased by 163%. It’s a real success story but one lost amidst the air stories of today. You know, stuff like climate change.
Thanks to shale gas, there is a plentiful supply of natural gas and its use can lead to even better air across the country. For example, natural gas vehicles produce 90+% less CO, 25% less CO2, and up to 60% less NOx. Since cars emit over half of the pollution in our air (80% if you live in a city) this is significant. All of that plus the prosperity of producing energy at home.
Emissions from oil and gas exploration were not a big deal so long as it was taking place in the Saudi desert or the jungles of Venezuela, but now, with the Marcellus, concerns are being raised. Things like methane leaked during drilling and emissions from rig engines or compressors. EPA now requires operators to inventory releases and submit the information. PADEP recently announced requirements for Pennsylvania’s Marcellus industry to complete a more exhaustive inventory. Producers and state governments struggle with 30+ years of EPA flip-flopping on what emissions should be ‘aggregated’ or summed together and which should be treated separately.
Permitting for new wells and the infrastructure necessary to bring the gas to market is crucial. But the science is unique, the rules complicated and processes can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. High quality work by seasoned professionals will help get permits in a timely fashion.
With thousands of wells, each with tens of features to consider, and thousands of miles of pipelines with hundreds of compressors each having tens of features, the inventory task is huge. Efficient data management will be as important as accurate collection. Wise selection of the type of data management systems can make the job easier and can provide managers with new viewpoints. For example, a geographic information system (GIS) allows data users to use the data collected to see trends across broad areas and varying topography.
The next time you see a woe-is-me news story about shale gas and air pollution think about the ‘secret’ of our success. This is not some kind of insurmountable problem. With their can-do spirit America’s engineers can help us all breathe easy about being energy secure.