Methane Leaks Around North Sea Boreholes Possibly Much More Widespread Than Thought

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Methane leaks around oil and gas well boreholes in the North Sea may be much more common than was previously thought, according to new research from the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel and the University of Basel.

In other words, there’s yet more evidence that the fossil fuel industry is more responsible for rising atmospheric methane levels than is commonly supposed. This situation will of course not remain the case indefinitely, though … as positive feedback loops in the Arctic do now seem to be kicking into action. That means more and more emissions will result simply from the Arctic melting — it’s not actually a positive thing.

With regard to the new research, the researchers note that even though this type of leakage isn’t accounted for by regulators or operators, it could prove just as important as fugitive emissions that come out from damaged wells.

“We estimate that gas leakage around boreholes could constitute one of the main sources of methane in the North Sea,” commented Dr Lisa Vielstädte from GEOMAR, the first author of the study.

The press release provides more: “During expeditions to oil and gas fields in the central North Sea in 2012 and 2013, the scientists discovered a number of methane seeps around abandoned wells. Interestingly, the gas originates from shallow gas pockets buried less than 1,000 meters below the seabed. They are simply penetrated when drilling into the underlying, economically interesting hydrocarbon reservoirs.”

“These gas pockets usually do not pose a risk to the drilling operation itself. But apparently disturbing the sediment around the well enables the gas to rise to the seafloor,” explained Dr Matthias Haeckel from GEOMAR, who initiated the study.

Utilizing seismic data from the subsurface of the region, the researchers found that around one-third of regional boreholes seem to have perforated shallow gas pockets.

“Considering the more than 11,000 wells that have been drilled in the North Sea, this results in a fairly large amount of potential methane sources,” stated Dr Vielstädte, of the Stanford University in California, USA.

By the calculations of the researchers, “shallow gas migration along wells may release around 3,000 to 17,000 tonnes of methane from the North Sea seafloor” every year.

“This would reflect a significant contribution to the North Sea methane budget,” continued Dr Haeckel.

The press release provides this important bit of information here: “In the ocean, methane is usually degraded by microbes, thereby locally acidifying the seawater. In the North Sea, about half of the wells are located in such shallow water depths that the methane leaking from the seabed can reach the atmosphere, where it is acting as a potent greenhouse gas — much more efficient than carbon dioxide.”

“Natural gas, thus methane, is often praised as the fossil fuel that is most suitable for the transition from coal burning towards regenerative energies. However, if drilling for gas leads to such high atmospheric methane emissions, we have to rethink the greenhouse gas budget of natural gas,” concluded Dr Haeckel.

It is not very surprising news, considering the fossil fuel industry’s incentives to not account for such emissions … but it’s still bad news for those wanting to avoid catastrophic anthropogenic climate change and its accompanying hells.

The “hells” in question here being the inevitability at this point of diminished agricultural productivity, reduced freshwater availability, lethally high temperatures during heatwaves, more destructive superstorms, social breakdown in hard-hit regions, war, and mass migration.

These issues will be accompanied by other symptoms of a disease that has been created through modern lifestyles and cultural beliefs: agricultural failure due to soil erosion, environmental problems accompanying the now ongoing mass extinction of the planet’s animal life + loss of genetic diversity within species, ocean acidification, the collapse of many if not most commercial fisheries, the depletion of economically recoverable concentrated mineral ores, and, last but not least, the endless monkey-versus-monkey crap-throwing contests that humans seem to be so prone to.

To quickly go over the point made earlier in the article about positive feedback loops in the Arctic, there’s quite a lot methane contained within the Arctic permafrost and the ocean there by its relatively low temperatures; as temperatures there continue rising rapidly, this methane will be liberated. The evidence is pretty strong that this process may now already be taking on a life of its own. For more information on that, see: Permafrost Thawing In Siberia Bringing With It Anthrax Outbreaks & Huge Methane Explosions.

The researchers involved in the work are now planning to conduct further investigations with their research vessel POSEIDON in October, around oil and gas boreholes in the North Sea.

The new research was published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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