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Shale vs. conventional: Which produces more greenhouse gases?

Oil and gas extracted from tight shale formations such as the Bakken produces greenhouse gas emissions similar to conventional oil fields, according to two studies released by the United States Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory.

As reported by The Bakken Magazine, early estimates predicted that shale production might generate up to 20 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than oil produced in conventional oil fields. The research was undertaken in a collaborative effort between the University of California at Davis and Stanford University. The study examined the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas and the Bakken shale in North Dakota.

The two separate studies found that once the flaring and venting of natural gas was accounted for, greenhouse gas emissions found in tight oil plays are similar to levels found in conventional operations. Also, the studies determined that the intensity of the emissions stayed consistent throughout the formation’s lifecycle.

Adam Brandt, Stanford University professor and lead author of the Bakken study, said, “Drilling and fracturing wells for shale oil is more energy intensive than conventional drilling, but these wells have higher productivity and require less energy to produce and process the crude. Flaring of gas is a key issue in the Bakken, and if flaring were controlled, the Bakken crude would have lower emissions than conventional crude.”

The studies used the Oil Production Greenhouse Gas Emissions Estimator (OPGEE) model to calculate energy consumption and the emissions related to oil and gas extraction. The OPGEE model is used to estimate the energy required for the lifecycle of a formation from the initial exploration all the way to the refinery and incorporates production, processing and transportation into the final calculations. To read the full article from The Bakken Magazine, click here. To view the full reports released by the Argonne National Laboratory, click here.