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« "Wham-Bam Double Win!" and Other Reactions to Coal-Plant Decision | Main | Is it 'Green' To Cut Down a Christmas Tree? »

11/29/2011

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I’ve used these cameras offshore and on land all over the country for the past 5 years and have attained Level III certification as an Infrared thermographer. This is absolutley the worst interpretation of a GasFind video I have ever seen. The video is simply indicating the heated exhaust being emitted from engines and gas fired units. Although there are some unburned hydrocarbon gases in the plume, it is not what you say it is. This is shameful ignorance on your part and makes you look like complete tools to those of us with the appropriate knowledge and experience. A tool is only as good as it’s user!

That is not the conclusion that our investigation reached. We used a Level III certified infrared thermographer recommended to us by the Flir comany, and then showed our video to three independent experts. You say that there are hydrocarbon gases in these exhaust plumes, and that is what our conclusion was. One of the sites shown in the video with these plumes self-reported releasing 1,038 tons of methane last year to the Maryland Department of the Environment. A May 2011 report by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection of the agency's own sampling around drilling and compressor sites found "elevated methane levels" in the air. “The elevated methane results at the sampling sites would seem to confirm that the natural gas production….is a source of pollutant emissions,” the May 2011 report by DEP said. We also reached the conclusion that these sites appear to be releasing methane and or other hydrocarbon gases.

Agree with Guiny. These are diesel exhaust plumes and nothing more with the exception of the exhaust plume from one glycol reboiler. (Still not vented methane however.)

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.

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)

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?

The article does not claim that methane is the only air pollutant likely rising from these drilling and compressor sites. It says that the emissions likely include methane and/or other hydrocarbon gases picked up by the GasFindIR camera.

I updated the article on January 4, 2012, to make it clear that the FlirGasFindIR images likely include methane and/or other hydrocarbon gases (which was also stated in the original version of the article); and that some of the images of air pollution could include diesel engine emissions from equipment on the sites, which often contains hydrocarbon gases.

The fact that there is a vigorous debate over which pollutants are rising from these drilling and compressor sites underscores the main point of the article and video: That further study of these air emissions is needed. An in-depth federal study of all of the environmental and public health impacts of drilling in the Marcellus shale would be a good way to get to the bottom of these questions.

I don’t know why most people join the CBF but I suspect it is because they believe that organization’s focus on a single regional issue – cleaning up the waters of the Chesapeake Bay -- is the most effective way to address a major environmental problem. Consequently, I am distressed to see that CBF wasting limited resources by becoming involved in peripheral issues such as greenhouse gas emissions. I refer specifically to the Bay Daily article and video on the CBF website dated 11/29/2011 – Video Investigation of Gas Drilling Sites Reveals Invisible Air Pollution. The use of an IR camera to document hydrocarbon emissions from drilling sites is not new; in fact EPA’s web site, http://www.epa.gov/airquality/oilandgas/basic.html, shows oil and gas emissions taken with an infrared camera in 2010. So CBF’s contribution is not new or unique. In addition, it is unclear from the CBF video what are the actual gas sources. It could, as suggested by several bloggers, be emissions from diesel generators and may not be methane.
The CBF article fails to state that EPA has a legal requirement to publish regulations by April 3, 2012. The new EPA regulations will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions (http://www.epa.gov/airquality/oilandgas/pdfs/20110728factsheet.pdf).
So the basic question is – Why is CBF devoting its resources to an environmental issue which is at best, only peripherally related to cleaning up the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and which is being addressed by EPA on a timely basis? Stay focused.
W.C. Thurber
Edgewater MD
CBF Member

In response to the post by W.C.Thurber, hydraulic fracking often results in accidents that spill a top-secret mix of chemicals into the Susquehanna River. The Susquehanna River feeds into the northern part of the Chesapeake Bay. These chemical spills result in significant pollution. Oddly, we don't regulate these activities. My understanding is that the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is working to protect our waters by using many regulations, and drawing attention to the whole picture of how the life of the Chesapeake Bay needs to be protected.

Elizabeth seems to have missed the point of my post. I indicated that CBF should stay focused on protecting and improving the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries and not dilute its resources on peripheral issues such as air pollution from natural gas drilling. I recognize that hydraulic fracturing can result in contamination these waters. However, I note that New York and Pennsylvania have or about to have regulations designed to minimize water contamination from fracking operations and to disclose the chemistry of the drilling additives. New York has recently issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement that requires mandatory disclosure of hydraulic fracturing additives. It also requires drillers to evaluate the use of alternative fracking fluid additives that pose less potential risk to water resources (http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/materials_minerals_pdf/rdsgeisexecsum0911.pdf).
In Pennsylvania, Preparedness, Prevention, and Contingency Plans and well completion reports are required to list chemicals or additives utilized, the approximate quantities of each material, and the method of storage. Operators must include safety and health information, cleanup procedures, toxicological data and waste chemical characteristics. (http://wilderness.org/files/State%20chemical%20disclosure%20requirements_1.pdf).

Elizabeth states that fracking “often” results in spills and that spills are a source of “significant” pollution. To further an informed and useful dialogue such vague generic measures of frequency and magnitude should be quantified.

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