Natural gas operations in the Appalachian basin are reducing their overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and intensity, while production continues to rise. A report published in July by Ceres analyzed methane and other GHG emissions across the U.S. oil and natural gas industry. Ceres is a nonprofit organization that works to “solve the world’s greatest sustainability challenges,” and was joined by the Clean Air Task Force (CATF) and ERM, a sustainability consulting firm, in the production of the report. The report investigated emissions at the national level, by regional basin, and by oil and gas producers from 2018-2020. Overall, they found that both methane and GHG intensity declined in the oil and gas industry in the two-year period, though there are fluctuations between individual basins. Methane intensity fell by 29 percent and GHG intensity fell by 23 percent in that time frame. According to the report, there are wide variations regionally regarding emissions, especially between oil-dominant and natural gas-dominant basins due to their different operating procedures. In oil-dominant basins, the process of flaring and venting natural gas from wells leads to significantly higher GHG emissions than in gas-dominant basins where emissions from venting and flaring are “limited or non-existent”. In Appalachia specifically, which is a shared region between Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia, methane and GHG emissions, as well as methane and GHG intensity have fallen by double-digit percentages from 2018 through 2020. More specifically, methane and GHG emissions fell by 13 and 10 percent, respectively. Methane and GHG intensity, which is a calculation that considers “methane emissions assigned to natural gas on an energy basis divided by the total methane content of produced natural gas”, fell by 10 and 20 percent, respectively. While emissions and intensity of methane and GHG fell, production of natural gas rose in the same time frame. The report states that Appalachian gas production grew for each of the years analyzed, rising by 16 percent in total from 2018 to 2020. These metrics are consistent when comparing Appalachia to the Permian basin, the U.S.’s largest shale basin, though at a different scale given their differing operations. An example of the differences can be seen in natural gas production and methane emissions. When comparing growth in gas production by percentages, the Permian basin vastly outperformed Appalachia Though the Permian basin’s gas production has increased by 40 percent compared to Appalachia’s 16 percent growth, Appalachia is producing a much higher quantity of natural gas. In 2020, the Permian basin produced 5.0 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, less than half of Appalachia’s 2020 production numbers. This is largely due to the fact that operations in the Permian basin are dedicated more to the extraction of oil, with natural gas being a byproduct of oil extraction, while Appalachian operations are dedicated to natural gas extraction. The decrease in emissions in Appalachia is driven by the rise of the environmental consciousness of producers who seek to market their natural gas as "responsibly sourced" or more environmentally friendly. Pittsburgh’s EQT is one of the producers who have made such changes, partnering with Project Canary, a Denver-based company that uses proprietary technology to monitor methane emissions at the gas well. As more producers take their own steps to reduce their emissions profiles, it is likely that emissions associated with natural gas development will continue to fall.
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