Methane has spiked sharply since 2014: BBC Methane surge needs 'urgent attention'.

This coincides with a large increase in fracking. So I'm wondering if there could be a connection? I don't think the target formations could release significant methane because they are generally so deep and pressurized. On the other hand, since the seismic footprint of fracking is so large compared to conventional drilling, could overlying shallow formations be sufficiently disturbed by explosions to release methane from near-surface sources?

  • $\begingroup$ Personally I find the multi-year lack of growth to be more suspect than the recent spike. $\endgroup$
    – f.thorpe
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 0:34
  • $\begingroup$ @farrenthorpe it's possible that the lack of growth was due to various ways of addressing cow flatulence with sea-weed and/or different types of grass. It's also possible that the more recent uptick is due to fracking, but I haven't studied either in detail, but I've seen articles that suggest both. $\endgroup$
    – userLTK
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 2:20
  • $\begingroup$ It's possible, but you would have to look at other possibilities too. even something as simple as an increase of flooding or lower rates of ocean mixing could produce the same levels of methane. It could even be all of the above. although fracking is definintely releasing some cleantechnica.com/2016/09/05/methane-emissions-fracking-update $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 15:22
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Don't forget gasses released from thawing permafrost. $\endgroup$
    – justCal
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 19:45
  • $\begingroup$ It's a bit difficult to assess the impact of fracking for shale gas and methane release without having any baseline data. So for example in relation to methane in water bgs.ac.uk/research/groundwater/shaleGas/methaneBaseline/… tells us that: Crucially, there are no consistent baseline data on methane concentrations in groundwater in the USA collected before shale gas exploitation began, which makes it very difficult to assess and deal with the observed problems of methane in groundwater. $\endgroup$
    – nmtoken
    Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 11:08

1 Answer 1


According to Howarth, et al. 2011, from 4 wells they sampled, flow back after hydraulic fracturing lead to a release of methane equal to 0.6-3.2% of lifetime production of the well. Fracking wells released methane equal to 3.6-7.9% of lifetime production from all sources, while non-fracking wells released 1.7-6.2% of lifetime production.

Petron, et al. 2014 come to similar conclusions, though they don't provide data for lifetime individual well production to allow comparisons. They measured from an aircraft and found 10ppb to 100ppb increases in methane concentration in the air above wells at the Denver-Julenberg fracking site. They note that their estimated methane release is 2-3 times higher than the EPA's estimates (i.e. the estimates under which the fracking company filed its environmental impact statement). I don't like this study as much due to lack of information about what stage of production the wells are at (if they fracked two years ago and are still pumping, then this is just due to leaky pipes, not due to the fracking process).

In any case, there is some significant evidence that fracking is releasing more methane than it is expected to. The first paper adds some discussion of prevention measures and such.

I will say this, it barely matters in the long run if the methane is leaking or being pumped into your furnace and burned. Methane isn't going to last too long in an oxygen atmosphere, and its all going to end up as CO$_2$ sooner or later.


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