October 15, 2009
By ANDREW C. REVKIN and CLIFFORD KRAUSS
To the naked eye, there was nothing to be seen at a natural gas well in eastern Texas but beige pipes and tanks baking in the sun.
But in the viewfinder of Terry Gosney’s infrared camera, three black plumes of gas gushed through leaks that were otherwise invisible.
“Holy smoke, it’s blowing like mad,” said Mr. Gosney, an environmental field coordinator for EnCana, the Canadian gas producer that operates the year-old well near Franklin, Tex. “It does look nasty.”
Within a few days the leaks had been sealed by workers.
Efforts like EnCana’s save energy and money. Yet they are also a cheap, effective way of blunting climate change that could potentially be replicated thousands of times over, from Wyoming to Siberia, energy experts say. Natural gas consists almost entirely of methane, a potent heat-trapping gas that scientists say accounts for as much as a third of the human contribution to global warming.
“This for me is an absolute no-brainer, even more so than putting in those compact fluorescent bulbs in your house,” said Al Armendariz, an engineer at Southern Methodist University who studies pollutants from oil and gas fields.
Acting quickly to stanch the loss of methane could substantially cut warming in the short run, even as countries tackle the tougher challenge of cutting the dominant greenhouse emission, carbon dioxide, studies by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggest.
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