January 21, 2018

Emissions from Natural Gas Production in the Barnett Shale Area and Opportunities for Cost-Effective Improvements

Al Armendariz, Ph.D.
Department of Environmental and Civil Engineering
Southern Methodist University

Natural gas production in the Barnett Shale region of Texas has increased rapidly since 1999, and as of June 2008, over 7700 oil and gas wells had been installed and another 4700 wells were pending. Gas production in 2007 was approximately 923 Bcf from wells in 21 counties. Natural gas is a critical feedstock to many chemical production processes, and it has many environmental benefits over coal as a fuel for electricity generation, including lower emissions of sulfur, metal compounds, and carbon dioxide. Nevertheless, oil and gas production from the Barnett Shale area can impact local air quality and release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The objectives of this study were to develop an emissions inventory of air pollutants from oil and gas production in the Barnett Shale area, and to identify cost- effective emissions control options.

Emission sources from the oil and gas sector in the Barnett Shale area were divided into point sources, which included compressor engine exhausts and oil/condensate tanks, as well as fugitive and intermittent sources, which included production equipment fugitives, well drilling and fracing engines, well completions, gas processing, and transmission fugitives. The air pollutants considered in this inventory were smog-forming compounds (NOx and VOC), greenhouse gases, and air toxic chemicals.

For 2009, emissions of smog-forming compounds from compressor engine exhausts and tanks were predicted to be approximately 96 tons per day (tpd) on an annual average, with peak summer emissions of 212 tpd. Emissions during the summer increase because of the effects of temperature on volatile organic compound emissions from storage tanks. Emissions of smog-forming compounds in 2009 from all oil and gas sources were estimated to be approximately 191 tpd on an annual average, with peak summer emissions of 307 tpd. The portion of those emissions originating from the 5-counties in the D-FW metropolitan area with significant oil and gas production was 165 tpd during the summer.

For comparison, 2009 emission inventories recently used by state and federal regulators estimated smog-forming emissions from all airports in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area to be 16 tpd. In addition, these same inventories had emission estimates for on-road motor vehicles (cars, trucks, etc.) in the 9-county Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area of 273 tpd. The portion of on-road motor vehicle emissions from the 5-counties in the D-FW metropolitan area with significant oil and gas production was 121 tpd, indicating that the oil and gas sector likely has greater emissions than motor vehicles in these counties.

The emission rate of air toxic compounds (like benzene and formaldehyde) from Barnett Shale activities was predicted to be approximately 6 tpd on an annual average, and 17 tpd during peak summer days. The largest contributors to air toxic emissions were the condensate tanks, followed by the engine exhausts.

In addition, predicted 2009 emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane were approximately 33,000 tons per day of CO2 equivalent. This is roughly equivalent to the expected greenhouse gas impact from two 750 MW coal-fired power plants. The largest contributors to the Barnett Shale greenhouse gas impact were CO2 emissions from compressor engine exhausts and fugitive CH4 emissions from all source types.

Cost effective control strategies are readily available that can substantially reduce emissions, and in some cases, reduce costs for oil and gas operators. These options include:
• use of “green completions” to capture methane and VOC compounds during well completions,
• phasing in electric motors as an alternative to internal-combustion engines to drive compressors,
• the control of VOC emissions from condensate tanks with vapor recovery units, and
• replacement of high-bleed pneumatic valves and fittings on the pipeline networks with no-bleed alternatives.

Read Full Report Here