Infrared Video of Marcellus Shale Drilling Air Pollution

Chesapeake Bay Foundation video on hydrocarbon gas emissions in the Marcellus shale region of Pennsylvania, West Virginia & Maryland

Gas Emissions in the Marcellus shale region of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation used an infrared Flir GasFindIR camera to detect methane and other hydrocarbon gas emissions from gas drilling and processing sites in the Marcellus shale region of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland.

Online – As reported by Gary Orlove in the?? 2011??InfraMation ITC Newsletter* ??? “December 2011”, in an article entitled “Video Investigation of Gas Drilling Sites Reveals Invisible Air Pollution”:

“The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) sent the video to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today with a letter explaining that the video shows that methane emissions from drilling sites are not being adequately controlled, and that proposed new EPA regulations for the drilling industry do not recognize the extent of the problem or a solution. CBF’s video provides important new evidence that “the industry is not sufficiently limiting the amount of leaks from drilling and processing operations,??? Jon Mueller, CBF’s Vice President for Litigation, wrote…”

You can view the video and read the CBF report on the CBF news site (http://cbf.typepad.com/bay_daily/2011/11/a-chesapeake-bay-foundation-infrared-video-investigation-of-natural-gas-drilling-and-processing-sites-in-pennsylvania-maryla.html) and watch the video at YouTube.com (http://youtu.be/d-ybofaO9wI) and learn more.

* The InfraMation ITC Newsletter is a free, subscription only publication by FLIR with archives and signup information online at: http://www1.infraredtraining.com/view/?id=40106.

The CBF report published online on November 29, 2011 included the following comments and statements:

The images also raise troubling questions about exemptions for gas drilling rigs??from??air pollution control permits and regulation in federal and state law, the experts said.

???It makes no sense to exempt an emissions source that we don???t know enough about,??? said one of the experts, George Jugovic, former director of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection???s southwest region office, who examined the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) videos.?? ???In Pennsylvania, we just don???t know if the emissions (from drilling rigs) are significant or negligible.???

The second expert CBF consulted about its video investigation, Dr. Robert Howarth, Professor of Ecology at Cornell University, said the invisible gases seen rising in the CBF video likely include a potent greenhouse gas, methane. The gases might also include other hydrocarbon gases, perhaps benzene (a carcinogen), toluene and/or propane.

???This would certainly contribute to smog (and) ozone,??? said Dr. Howarth, as he examined CBF???s infrared videos of gas pouring out of drilling and compressor sites.

???I would not want to be breathing the air downstream of those rigs,??? said Dr. Howarth, who represents the state of New York on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Chesapeake Bay Program???s Science and Technical Advisory Committee.

ED NOTE: To foster discussion of the claims made, the CBF has also enabled weblog visitors to add their comments, apparently unedited, to the story described here. Below are some of the most recent ones from a person claiming to be an expert in the Infrared measurement technology used. It adds more uncertainty to the claims, but in our view furthers the need for a more through study as quoted above by George Jugovic:

As an infrared thermographer, a certified GasFindIR thermographer, a mechanical engineer with a specialty in thermodynamics and combustion, and a consultant who performs leak detection work within this industry using FLIR GasFindIR cameras… the majority of the interpretations within this video are false. The majority of what are being interpreted as vented emissions are simply exhaust plumes, most of which are actually on diesel generators for electricity production on drill sites.

Posted by: Mike L. | 12/22/2011 at 05:26 PM

Therefore, it cannot be assumed that there are unburned hydrocarbons (methane) within all the exhaust plumes unless it is verified that these are not diesel engines (which the majority of drilling rigs are)and the downstream plume has been reviewed for dissipation. It is true that if a piece of equipment using methane as it’s primary fuel source is not operating correctly, it could result in incomplete combustion and therefore lead to some unburned hydrocarbons in the atmosphere. However, as an experienced thermographer you must follow the plume downwind and assess its dispersion rate to make a determination whether or not a significant amount of unburned methane is being released. Whether this was done or not on the actual video is unclear because the video only shows circles around the portion of the exhaust plume that does not matter and you should not be looking at, and most of them are diesel engines as I previously mentioned. What you are seeing at the immediate discharge of the exhaust stacks are infrared energy refraction, high temperature water vapor and other common exhaust gasses, which are common byproducts of hydrocarbon combustion:
CH4 + 2 O2 ? CO2 + 2 H2O (Simplified version)

Posted by: Mike L. | 12/22/2011 at 05:27 PM

Shortly downwind the high temperature water vapor cools/dissipates. If a plume remains intact further downwind, then you know there are unburned hydrocarbons being emitted to the atmosphere.

There are indeed a few likely hydrocarbon leaks I can see in the videos, but they are definitely not the exaggerated cry wolf scenario this story was made out to be. Infrared and Optical Gas Imaging are incredible tools when used properly, but can also do incredible harm when not interpreted properly.

Also, the story said a “Level III Infrared Thermographer” was used. Was this thermographer certified solely on radiometric cameras, or did he have a GasFindIR certification as well?

Posted by: Mike L. | 12/22/2011 at 05:28 PM