Welcome to Hell: Blowout at ExxonMobil subsiduary XTO Energy frac site in 2018 one of worst-ever methane leaks in USA

Day 20: XTO’s exploded gas well that vented methane, caused 2 mile no fly zone for weeks finally capped; Powhatan residents return home; Authorities chant no harm to public, no safety risk

Oil & gas industry’s fracking is “perfectly safe” lie explodes by homes, yet again: Ohio, Belmont County, XTO Well pad explosion, fire forces 1 mile mandatory evacuation area; Families & businesses within 2 miles urged to evacuate, 2/3s of Village of Powhatan

The complete study.

Satellite observations reveal extreme methane leakage from a natural gas well blowout by Sudhanshu Pandey, Ritesh Gautam, Sander Houweling, Hugo Denier van der Gon, Pankaj Sadavarte, Tobias Borsdorff, Otto Hasekamp, Jochen Landgraf, Paul Tol, Tim van Kempen, Ruud Hoogeveen, Richard van Hees, Steven P. Hamburg, Joannes D. Maasakkers, and Ilse Aben, PNAS, first published December 16, 2019

Edited by Paul B. Shepson, Stony Brook University, and accepted by Editorial Board Member Ravi R. Ravishankara November 6, 2019 (received for review May 20, 2019)


Emissions from the fossil fuel industry are one of the major sources of atmospheric methane. Gas leakages due to accidents in the oil and gas sector can release large amounts of methane within short periods of time. Although these emissions are very challenging to monitor, satellite measurement platforms offer a promising approach by regularly scanning the entire globe. This study demonstrates this capability of satellite measurements by reporting atmospheric measurements of methane emission from a natural gas well blowout in Ohio in 2018. Assuming a constant emission rate during the whole event, we find the total methane emission from the 20-d blowout to be equivalent to a substantial fraction of the annual total anthropogenic emission of several European countries.


Methane emissions due to accidents in the oil and natural gas sector are very challenging to monitor, and hence are seldom considered in emission inventories and reporting. One of the main reasons is the lack of measurements during such events. Here we report the detection of large methane emissions from a gas well blowout in Ohio during February to March 2018 in the total column methane measurements from the spaceborne Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI). From these data, we derive a methane emission rate of 120 ± 32 metric tons per hour. This hourly emission rate is twice that of the widely reported Aliso Canyon event in California in 2015. Assuming the detected emission represents the average rate for the 20-d blowout period, we find the total methane emission from the well blowout is comparable to one-quarter of the entire state of Ohio’s reported annual oil and natural gas methane emission, or, alternatively, a substantial fraction of the annual anthropogenic methane emissions from several European countries. Our work demonstrates the strength and effectiveness of routine satellite measurements in detecting and quantifying greenhouse gas emission from unpredictable events. In this specific case, the magnitude of a relatively unknown yet extremely large accidental leakage was revealed using measurements of TROPOMI in its routine global survey, providing quantitative assessment of associated methane emissions.

Stunning video at: A Methane Leak, Seen From Space, Proves to Be Far Larger Than Thought by Hiroko Tabuchi Dec 16, 2019, The New York Times

The first satellite designed to continuously monitor the planet for methane leaks made a startling discovery last year: A little known gas-well accident at an Ohio fracking site was in fact one of the largest methane leaks ever recorded in the United States.

The findings by a Dutch-American team of scientists, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, mark a step forward in using space technology to detect leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, from oil and gas sites worldwide.

The scientists said the new findings reinforced the view that methane releases like these, which are difficult to predict, could be far more widespread than previously thought.

“We’re entering a new era. With a single observation, a single overpass, we’re able to see plumes of methane coming from large emission sources,” said Ilse Aben, an expert in satellite remote sensing and one of the authors of the new research. “That’s something totally new that we were previously not able to do from space.” [How quickly will the oil and gas industry swoop in and buy and silence this data collecting marvel?]

Scientists also said the new findings reinforced the view that methane emissions from oil installations are far more widespread than previously thought.

The blowout, in February 2018 at a natural gas well run by an Exxon Mobil subsidiary in Belmont County, Ohio, released more methane than the entire oil and gas industries of many nations do in a year, the research team found. The Ohio episode triggered about 100 residents within a one-mile radius to evacuate their homes while workers scrambled to plug the well.

At the time, the Exxon subsidiary, XTO Energy, said it could not immediately determine how much gas had leaked. But the European Space Agency had just launched a satellite with a new monitoring instrument called Tropomi, designed to collect more accurate measurements of methane.

Natural gas production has come under increased scrutiny because of the prevalence of leaks of methane — the colorless, odorless main component of natural gas — from the fuel’s supply chain.

… The satellite’s measurements showed that, in Ohio in the 20 days it took for Exxon to plug the well, about 120 metric tons of methane an hour were released. That amounted to twice the rate of the largest known methane leak in the United States, from an oil and gas storage facility in Aliso Canyon, Calif., in 2015, though that event lasted longer and had higher emissions overall.

The Ohio blowout released more methane than the reported emissions of the oil and gas industries of countries like Norway and France, the researchers estimated. Scientists said the measurements from the Ohio site could mean that other large leaks are going undetected.

“When I started working on methane, now about a decade ago, the standard line was: ‘We’ve got it under control. We’re managing it,’” Dr. Hamburg said. “But in fact, they didn’t have the data. They didn’t have it under control, because they didn’t understand what was actually happening. And you can’t manage what you don’t measure.” [And that’s why industry and its pollution enabling regulators don’t measure! Or, the few times they do, they measure upwind]

An Exxon spokesman, Casey Norton, said that the company’s own scientists had scrutinized images and taken pressure readings from the well to arrive at a smaller estimate of the emissions from the blowout. Exxon is in touch with the satellite researchers, Mr. Norton said, and has “agreed to sit down and talk further to understand the discrepancy and see if there’s anything that we can learn.”

“This was an anomaly,” he said. “This is not something that happens on any regular basis. And we do our very best to prevent this from ever happening.” [And yet, it happened and has happened often elsewhere, so obviously companies either don’t give a damn, can’t control their workers, rigs and equipment, or, still don’t know what their doing]

An internal investigation found that high pressure had caused the well’s casing, or internal lining, to fail, Mr. Norton said. After working with Ohio regulators on safety improvements, he said, the well is now in service.

Miranda Leppla, head of energy policy at the Ohio Environmental Council, said there had been complaints about health issues — throat irritation, dizziness, breathing problems — among residents closest to the well. [Has Exxon told residents and first responders what chemical additives they were breathing?]

“Methane emissions, unfortunately, aren’t a rare occurrence, but a constant threat that exacerbates climate change and can damage the health of Ohioans,” she said.

Scientists said that a critical task was now to be more quickly able to sift through the tens of millions of data points the satellite collects each day to identify methane hot spots. Studies of oil fields in the United States have shown that a small number of sites with high emissions are responsible for the bulk of methane releases.

So far, detecting and measuring methane leaks has involved expensive field studies using aircraft and infrared cameras that make the invisible gas visible. In a visual investigation published last week, The New York Times used airborne measurement equipment and advanced infrared cameras to expose six so-called super emitters in a West Texas oil field.

In a separate paper published in October, researchers detailed the use of two satellites to detect and measure a longer-term leak of methane from a natural gas compressor station in Turkmenistan, in Central Asia. Researchers estimated emissions from the site to be roughly comparable to the overall release from the Aliso Canyon event.

The leak has now stopped, satellite readings show, after the researchers raised the alarm through diplomatic channels.

“That’s the strength of satellites. We can look almost everywhere in the world,” said Dr. Aben, a senior scientist at the Dutch space institute in Utrecht and an author on both papers.

There are limitations to hunting for methane leaks with satellite technology. Satellites cannot see beneath clouds. Scientists must also do complex calculations to account for the background methane that already exists in the earth’s atmosphere.

Still, satellites will increasingly be able to both rapidly detect large releases and shed light on the rise in methane levels in the atmosphere, which has been particularly pronounced since 2007 for reasons that still aren’t fully understood. Fracking natural-gas production, which accelerated just as atmospheric methane levels jumped, has been studied as one possible cause. …

Fracking-well blast 60 miles from Pittsburgh leaked more methane than some countries emit in a year by Ryan Deto, Dec 17, 2019, pghcitypaper

In 2018, a natural-gas well exploded near Powhatan Point in Ohio, a small town that sits along the Ohio River, just 60 miles from Pittsburgh as the crow flies. The fracking well was owned and operated by a subsidiary of oil giant Exxon.

According to a study published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, this single explosion emitted a gargantuan amount of methane into the atmosphere. Over the 20 days it took for Exxon to plug the well, more than 57,000 metric tons of methane was released, at a rate of about 120 metric tons of methane per hour.

This figure, from one well in less than three weeks, eclipsed the annual amount of methane that is emitted by the oil and gas industries of France, Norway, and the Netherlands combined.

The Ohio blast is now the largest known methane leak on record in the U.S. and was twice as large as the previous largest leak that occurred at an oil and gas storage facility in California in 2015.

The findings mark a step forward in using space technology to detect leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from oil and gas sites worldwide.

Methane is an extremely powerful greenhouse gas. Studies vary, but methane is generally considered to be between 25-84 times more potent of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

The study determined the scope of the leak using satellite technology, and the authors praised the mapping system to reveal just how damaging the incident was in terms of how much greenhouse gas was emitted.

“In this specific case, the magnitude of a relatively unknown yet extremely large accidental leakage was revealed,” reads the study. …

This So-Called Bridge Fuel ‘Leads to Hell’: Blowout at ExxonMobil Fracking Site Among Nation’s Worst-Ever Methane Leaks, New data about the 2018 incident sparks fresh warnings about the dangers of natural gas and renewed calls for a rapid transition to renewable energy by Jessica Corbett, Dec 17, 2019, Common Dreams

The revelation Monday that a blowout last year at an Ohio natural gas well owned by an ExxonMobil subsidiary was one of the country’s largest-ever leaks of the potent greenhouse gas methane provoked impassioned calls for a rapid, just transition to 100% renewable energy nationwide.

“The next time some paid liar in the fossil fuel industry insists fracked gas is helping solve the climate crisis, remind them that a single Exxon fracking site ‘leaked more methane in 20 days than all but three European nations emit over an entire year,'” tweeted David Sirota, a speechwriter and adviser for Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign.

Sirota quoted The Washington Post’s report on the findings of a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A team of American and Dutch scientists studied satellite data and found that the Feb. 15, 2018 blowout at a Belmont County well—which was hydraulically fractured or fracked before the incident—resulted in an “extreme” leakage of methane.

The team of 15 scientists explained that “from these data, we derive a methane emission rate of 120 ± 32 metric tons per hour. This hourly emission rate is twice that of the widely reported Aliso Canyon event in California in 2015.” The incident in California, which lasted four months, is the largest known accidental methane leak in the United States. Methane is 84–87 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

… ExxonMobil, for its part, did not indicate any intention to reconsider fracking or natural gas production in response to the new findings.

Refer also to:

2019 08: New study: Frac’ing in U.S. & Canada linked to worldwide atmospheric methane spike. “This recent increase in methane is massive,” Howarth said. “It’s globally significant.”

2017 09 21: Ex-Encana VP (Gerard Protti) led AER taps Encana with $7,500 administrative penalty for major sour gas blowout at Fox Creek Alberta

2015 09: AER’s EMERGENCY COMMAND CENTRE SET UP 2.5 HRS AWAY! DON’T AER COMMAND STAFF WANT TO DAMAGE THEIR BRAINS? Encana’s Fox Creek Alberta blow out spewing 20,000,000,000 litres/day sour gas & condensate: Where’s the regulator? Ex-Encana VP Gerard Protti = AER Chair; Ex-Encana Manager Mark Taylor = AER VP Industry Operations

2014: Massive fish kill reported at Dalworthington Gardens lake after XTO Energy cited for taking water out for fracking; “All of us who’ve lived around here have been watching this lake go down for a very long time”

2014: First criminal case against a Shale firm opens for toxic frac waste spill/leak/dumping; XTO Energy Inc., subsidiary of Exxon Mobil Corp. hires three law firms to defend itself

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