"Unfracking is a method of plugging orphan wells using biochar."
— Bloomberg Green Feb 23, 2023
A few years ago I was in a press conference at a UN COP and representatives of the IPCC were running through the numbers — greenhouse gas emissions were up, especially methane. None of the guardrails agreed to in earlier conferences seem to be working. They were either ignored, gaslighted, or kicked down the road. I rose and asked a question.
How much of this rise is from fugitive methane leaking from pipelines, retired but uncapped wells, and unconventional oil and gas (a.k.a. fracking)?They said they didn’t know but did not consider those to be major factors. Mic drop.
Since then IPCC has learned much more about fugitive methane. New IR satellite imaging has allowed scientists to map methane hotspots around the world. The next generation of remote sensors in space, authorized by recent legislation, will pinpoint sources and quantify volumes to fine detail. Still, I was recently on a call with experts in this area and they tell me the vast majority of methane emissions today — now rising at an unprecedented clip — can be traced to their origins — human or “natural” — by molecular signature. The blip we see comes from sources other than the oil and gas industry or cattle feedlots.
That answer is disturbing. If the sharp rise of methane in the atmosphere is from natural sources, it means that Earth systems have crossed tipping points we have been warned about — permafrost melt; shallow coastal clathrates; accelerated microbial activity from changing weather, soil and water conditions. If the sharp rise being observed is from fracking and pipeline leakage, we are in for it because fracking is rapidly expanding to parts of the world and new pipelines are all the rage. Ones in war zones, like the Nordstream II, are especially concerning.
Energy Infrastructure as Target
Nordstream had 750 miles of methane — 300 million cubic meters — under pressure that was released when it was ruptured by a coordinated NATO bombing to prevent European countries from buying Russian gas. That amount of methane will have about the same global warming over a 100-year timeframe as about 6 million tons of carbon dioxide.
That’s roughly on par with the amount of CO2 emitted in a year by mid-sized cities such as Havana, or Helsinki or Dayton, Ohio.
As it turned out, concern that Europeans would lose their resolve to adhere to sanctions on Russia in the gales of General Winter were misplaced. Germany completely eliminated its dependence on Gasprom by speeding up its green power conversion and buying more from Norway. No one had to freeze in the dark. There was no need to slow the decommissioning of toxic and target-prone nukes. There was no need to blow up Nordstream II.
28 Sep Daily Mail: Ursula von der Leyen, head of the EU Commission, this morning vowed the ‘strongest possible response’ to what she called ‘sabotage’ of the pipelines — but stopped short of directly blaming Russia. It was also revealed last night that the CIA warned weeks ago the pipes could be attacked after agents sent a ‘strategic warning’ to European allies including Germany, sources told Der Spiegel last night, though they refused to say whether Russia was identified as a culprit. The warning was not specific and did not pinpoint a time or location for an attack, the New York Times added. However, heavy suspicion for the attack has fallen on the Kremlin — with European officials briefing the Washington Post last night that ‘no-one is thinking this is anything other than Russian sabotage’.
The US, Mexico, Nigeria, China and other countries are littered with abandoned oil and gas wells that have no owner and are a major source of methane emissions. High populations of such orphans are located in Texas, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Colorado, California, New York State, Ohio, Louisiana, Kentucky, Illinois and New Mexico. These abandoned wells also create an unacceptably high risk of toxic chemical exposure and water and air quality contamination in the communities where they are located. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that methane emissions from over 2 million inactive, unplugged wells, of which documented orphan wells are a subset, produce the equivalent of 2 to 5 million cars. (EDF 2022)
Unfracking is a method of plugging orphan wells using biochar. Mixed into a gravel and water slurry, biochar makes a stronger plug, absorbs methane, nitrous oxide and other gases, and mitigates the ongoing climate effects of leaking wells by locking up photosynthetic carbon for thousands of years. It takes carbon from the air and sends it down a deep well shaft. It can also produce energy, since pyrolysis of biomass generates available heat that can run turbines.
— Open Air
New state legislation in Colorado will encourage biochar use in local well plugging. This legislation can be adapted and advanced in other orphan-well heavy states and countries.
On Thursday February 23, 2023, OpenAir, a grassroots volunteer collective dedicated to advancing carbon removal technologies, hosted a free webinar on fugitive methane solutions using biochar. We can close with a short video they posted to their website. The webinar was recorded and should be available soon.
Now wouldn’t it have been nice if we had plugged the Nordstream II with biochar before we blew it up?