Measuring the Climate Trade-off Between Coal and Natural Gas

  • Mark Omara stands in front of a van outfitted with sensors to record methane emissions in real time. Photo: Susan Phillips/StateImpact Pennsylvania

March 18, 2015
By Susan Phillips

A town park may seem a surprising place to find natural gas wells. But this is southwestern Pennsylvania, the heart of the state’s drilling boom. Today, the researchers are in a pristine park in the Pittsburgh suburb of Monroeville. Recent snowfall still crunches underfoot. And tucked away behind green fences that would typically hide Dumpsters are natural gas wells.

After a park worker opens a gate for the research crew, their truck makes a quick left down Gazebo Lane, crosses Soccer Street, and we wind our way past baseball diamonds, tennis courts, and dog walkers.

They quickly get to work unloading equipment used to track the well site’s emissions. Researcher Mark Omara explains how its done. Containers of nitrous oxide and acetylene sit in the back of their truck. These are used as “tracers,” harmless chemicals that they release near the well site to help them trace whether methane is leaking. Omara and his colleagues Xiang Lee and Melissa Sullivan unwind lengths of green hoses that attach to the chemicals in the truck. They run the tubing to tripods, which stretch about 7 feet high.

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