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Page added on October 30, 2007

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Gas emissions must be measured, professor says

To enforce regulations. Leaks in pipelines, flares at oil wells

You can’t regulate greenhouse gas emissions if you can’t measure them, says Carleton University professor Matthew Johnson, who has discovered some new ways to measure what happens at pipeline leaks and gas flares at oil wells.

“If you’re going to legislate a reduction, you have to be able to measure how that reduction occurred and that’s a huge challenge,” Johnson said yesterday after presenting some new research to colleagues.
Johnson filed a provisional patent this year on his newest technique – a combination of mathematical models and instruments – for measuring methane leaks in pipelines.

Kilogram for kilogram, methane is 25 times worse than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, said Johnson, who is Carleton’s research chair in energy and combustion-generated air emissions.

“It’s still pretty early,” he said, adding he hopes that his technique can be used practically within three years.

Johnson has also determined how to measure the greenhouse gases coming off flares at oil wells – and there were nearly 10,000 flares at different sites in Alberta from 2002 to 2005.

“When you bring oil from the ground to the surface, it’s like opening a bottle of Coke,” he explained. When the pressure is released, the natural gas that has been dissolved in the oil is given off. Producers have historically burned off that gas in a flare if the gas was too difficult or too costly to bring to market.

Sometimes, the excess gas is vented – released directly without burning – which is even worse for the environment since it’s mostly methane.

Using his new means of measuring, Johnson found that emissions from solution gas flaring and venting together have come down 42 per cent in Alberta from 2002 to 2005.

“It’s the first time that this has been done, to my knowledge,” he said. “People would know there’s a reduction, but they probably don’t know what that reduction has been. It’s a small bit of good news in a what’s universally bad news.”

There are still 5.2 million tonnes of CO2 released into the atmosphere from flaring and venting every year.

The Gazette (Montreal)

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