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Researchers earn NSF award to study methane emissions from natural gas fields

Photos of Derek Johnson and Omar Abdul-Aziz

Derek Johnson and Omar Abdul-Aziz

Researchers at West Virginia University have been awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation to study methane emissions from natural gas well sites. The three-year grant comes with more than $320,000 in funding.


Large uncertainties exist in the ability to measure and quantify the amount of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that is released along the natural gas supply chain. Recent studies have shown significant variations in methane losses, and if these losses are large enough, they may mitigate the benefits of natural gas use.

The research team, led by Derek Johnson, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, will be investigating the combination of new measurement technologies and techniques to understand and accurately gauge these emissions.

Working alongside students and Omar Abdul-Aziz, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, the research team will collect and analyze downwind and component-level measurements of methane fluxes along with atmospheric changes in an effort to create a data model that would replace the labor-intensive leak detection schemes currently being used. The model could benefit researchers, regulators and the industry.

“Our team at WVU previously developed a system to directly quantify methane emissions from natural gas components, and even though the system is robust and accurate it does require site access and extended personnel efforts on site,” Johnson said. “Both industry and researchers are developing technologies that can be deployed near the site that require less physical labor. Our team will develop an overall approach of combining the best data from multiple techniques to develop a more efficient method of methane quantification.

“These new approaches will reduce uncertainties between studies, which will help improve the greater understanding of methane emissions,” Johnson said. “These tools will also help industry to identify excessive emissions so that they can be remedied immediately in efforts to conserve natural gas and reduce their greenhouse gas footprint.”

Johnson and Abdul-Aziz will leverage industrial collaborations at the Marcellus Shale Energy and Environmental Laboratory in Morgantown, along with the WVU Energy Institute to conduct seminars and disseminate the results of their research.



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