UH Researchers Find Big Leaks At Texas Natural Gas Sites

A new research project is finding a down-side to all the “clean” natural gas being produced in in Texas.


When used by big industrial plants, natural gas burns cleaner making less global-warming gases compared to burning oil or coal. But the problem is when the gas is first extracted from the ground: the drilling and related operations can leak a component of natural gas, methane. And methane is considered a far worse greenhouse gas than the carbon dioxide that comes from burning fossil fuels.

“We did extensive sampling of the whole area,” said Robert Talbot, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Houston. 

Talbot helped lead a research project by several universities and the Environmental Defense Fund. It involved driving a mobile lab and flying a plane around natural gas operations in North Texas to measure methane in the air.

“We found the largest leakers were the compressor stations and the gas processing plants. The wells themselves, most were losing not that much,” said Talbot.

Talbot said they found that the majority of leaks came from a few facilities and that those methane losses far exceeded estimates reported to the government. That could be significant because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to issue new rules any day now to make oil and gas operations do more to reduce methane leaks.

“EPA looks forward to reviewing the series of studies on methane emissions (in Texas),” said EPA spokesperson David Gray in an emailed response to News 88.7. “EPA will continue to refine its emission estimates to reflect the most robust and up to date information available.”

The industry says it’s already done plenty and that more regulation is unnecessary. The researchers say overall, methane leaks don’t negate the benefits of natural gas, but they say it’s getting close.

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Dave Fehling

Dave Fehling

Director of News and Public Affairs

As Director of News and Public Affairs, Dave Fehling manages the radio news operation at Houston's NPR station. Previously, he was a reporter at the station, covering the oil & gas industry and its impact on the environment. He won top state honors for in-depth and investigative reporting as well...

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