Methane flux from flowback operations at a shale gas site

Jacob Shaw, Grant Allen, Joseph Pitt, Adil Shah, Shona E. Wilde, Zhaoyang Fan, Hugo Ricketts, Paul I. Williams, Prudence Bateson, Patrick Barker, Ruth Purvis, David Lowry, Rebecca Fisher, James France, Max Coleman, Alistair C. Lewis, David A. Risk, Robert S. Ward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We report measurements of methane (CH 4) mixing ratios and emission fluxes derived from sampling at a monitoring station at an exploratory shale gas extraction facility in Lancashire, England. Elevated ambient CH 4 mixing ratios were recorded in January 2019 during a period of cold-venting associated with a nitrogen lift process at the facility. These processes are used to clear the well to stimulate flow of natural gas from the target shale. Estimates of CH 4 flux during the emission event were made using three independent modeling approaches: Gaussian plume dispersion (following both a simple Gaussian plume inversion and the US EPA OTM 33-A method), and a Lagrangian stochastic transport model (WindTrax). The three methods yielded an estimated peak CH 4 flux during January 2019 of approximately 70 g s −1. The total mass of CH 4 emitted during the six-day venting period was calculated to be 2.9, 4.2 ± 1.4(1σ) and 7.1 ± 2.1(1σ) tonnes CH 4 using the simple Gaussian plume model, WindTrax, and OTM-33A methods, respectively. Whilst the flux approaches all agreed within 1σ uncertainty, an estimate of 4.2 (± 1.4) tonnes CH 4 represents the most confident assessment due to the explicit modeling of advection and meteorological stability permitted using the WindTrax model. This mass is consistent with fluxes calculated by the Environment Agency (in the range 2.7 to 6.8 tonnes CH 4), using emission data provided by the shale site operator to the regulator. This study provides the first CH 4 emission estimate for a nitrogen lift process and the first-reported flux monitoring of a UK shale gas site, and contributes to the evaluation of the environmental impacts of shale gas operations worldwide. This study also provides forward guidance on future monitoring applications and flux calculation in transient emission events. Implications: This manuscript discusses atmospheric measurements near to the UK’s first hydraulic fracturing facility, which has very high UK public, media, and policy interest. The focus of this manuscript is on a single week of data in which a large venting event at the shale gas site saw emissions of ~4 tonnes of methane to atmosphere, in breach of environmental permits. These results are likely to beresults are likely to be reported by the media and may influence future policy decisions concerning the UK hydraulic fracturing industry.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1324-1339
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Air and Waste Management
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020


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