Back in February 2018, a natural gas well owned by a subsidiary of oil giant Exxon exploded at a fracking site in Belmont County, near the Ohio-West Virginia border. The incident forced nearby residents to evacuate their homes, but no one truly realized the true impact of the explosion at the time.
Far worse than it seemed
Now a new study using satellite technology is revealing that it was far worse than initially assumed. The new data is showing that in the 20 days it took for Exxon to plug the well, more than 60,000 metric tons of methane was leaked, at a rate of about 120 metric tons of methane per hour.
“The blowout and the period of time it was occurring contributed 60,000 tons of methane to the atmosphere, and it represents in the case of Ohio one-quarter of the annual emissions coming from the oil and gas industry,” said to WOSU Radio Steven Hamburg, one of the study authors and the chief scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund.
This is more methane than some countries emit in a year, and the leak is now considered the largest in U.S. history. It is twice as large as the leak that occurred at an oil and gas storage facility in California in 2015 that previously held the record as the biggest ever.
Bad for the environment
This is particularly disconcerting because methane is such a dangerous gas for the environment. “Methane is responsible for one-quarter of the warming that we’re currently experiencing,” Hamburg said.
“It’s a very potent but short-lived greenhouse gas, so reducing those emissions will have the biggest impact on slowing the rate of warming.”
The news highlights the ever-growing importance of looking beyond fossil fuels to serve our energy needs. And with renewables growing in stability and efficiency, now is as good a time as any to consider alternative options.
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.