Quantifying Emissions from the Eagle Ford Shale Using Ethane Enhancement
Monday, 15 December 2014
Emissions from unconventional oil and natural gas exploration in the Eagle Ford Shale have been conjectured as a contributing factor to increasing ozone concentrations in the San Antonio Metropolitan Area, which is on track to be designated as a nonattainment area by the EPA. Primary species found in natural gas emissions are alkanes, with C3 and heavier alkanes acting as short-lived VOCs contributing to regional ozone formation. Methane emissions from the industry are also a forcing mechanism for climate change as methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Recent studies have highlighted a high variability and uncertainties in oil and natural gas emissions estimates in emissions inventories. Thus, accurately quantifying oil and natural gas emissions from the Eagle Ford Shale is necessary to assess the industry’s impacts on climate forcing and regional air quality. We estimate oil and natural gas emissions in the Eagle Ford Shale using in situ ethane measurements along southwesterly trajectories from the Gulf of Mexico, dominantly during the summertime. Ethane enhancement within the drilling area is estimated by comparing ethane concentrations upwind of the shale, near the Texas coastline, to downwind measurements in the San Antonio Metropolitan Area, Odessa, and Amarillo. Upwind ethane observations indicate low background levels entering Texas in the Gulf of Mexico air masses. Significant ethane enhancement is observed between the coast and San Antonio, and is attributed to oil and natural gas operations due to the concurrent enhancements of heavier alkanes. Using typical boundary layer depths and presuming homogenous emissions across the Eagle Ford shale area, the observed ethane enhancements are used to extrapolate an estimate of oil and natural gas industry emissions in the Eagle Ford. As oil and natural gas production in the area is projected to grow rapidly over the coming years, the impacts of these emissions on regional air quality will need to be thoroughly studied.