Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Oil and gas production in the Uinta Basin has fallen, but methane leaks remained steady and high

Photo of haze over the Uintah Basin
KUER File Photo
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. It’s the main component of natural gas and leaks at high rates in Utah’s Uinta Basin.

Oil and gas production has gone down in Utah’s Uinta Basin from 2015-2020 because of market forces, but new research shows methane leaks have remained steady and high.

Researchers expected to see them increase when production and emissions declined. But they found that wasn’t the case in the Uinta Basin. The ratio of leakage remained between 6-8%, which are some of the highest rates in the country

Seth Lyman is the director of the Bingham Research Center for Utah State University in Vernal. He said having a high rate is not a great thing, but they’ve found some positives in their work.

“The fact that the leak rate stayed the same as a production decline actually is somewhat good news because it means that likely over that same time period, companies were doing a better job at controlling emissions,” Lyman said. “Not a hugely better job because we'd like to see that leak rate improving, but it is a better job.”

There’s a lot of work to still be done in addressing the escaping gas, according to John Lin, a professor in the atmospheric sciences department at the University of Utah. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas and over a 20-year period, he said it’s about 85 times more effective at warming the planet than carbon dioxide.

He said detecting and fixing leaks sooner is better for the environment and the local economy.

“I think for a lot of people, the hope [is it] could be a win-win situation where you're producing the natural gas, generating economic activity generating jobs, but not necessarily emitting to the atmosphere,” Lin said. “[And you’re] recovering this valuable product.”

Natural gas will be important in the transition away from coal, he said. That’s because it’s “much cleaner in terms of climate.” But if methane, or natural gas, just flows into the atmosphere, that can be worse than burning coal.

Lin said he’s hopeful because a lot of the leaks are faults in human infrastructure, which is something people can fix easier.

“Our air quality problem on the Wasatch front, the infamous one in the winter time, a lot of that is controlled by weather plus us, so we only have half the agency,” he said. “This is where we have a lot of agency in terms of what we do really [does] matter.”

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.