Wells that extract natural gas from underground often leak large amounts of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, into the air. A team of Princeton University researchers has found that, in one of the biggest gas-producing regions, most of these emissions come from a tiny subset of the wells, a finding with major implications for how to control the problem.
Researchers led by Mark Zondlo, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, spent two years sampling emissions from the Marcellus Shale, a basin that stretches from West Virginia into New York State. In research published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, the authors reported that 10% of wells account for more than three quarters of gas leaked into the atmosphere as a byproduct of extraction. That has the equivalent greenhouse gas effect of adding 500,000 cars, or about 2% of the U.S. auto market, to the road.
Along with Zondlo, who is former associate director for external partnerships at the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, principal researchers on the team include Elie Bou-Zeid, professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Jeffrey Fitts, former research scholar in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and former research and development strategist at the Andlinger Center. Dana Caulton, a former postdoctoral researcher in Zondlo’s lab, led the field sampling.