BUFFALO TOWNSHIP, Pa.—On a flat, roughly one-acre square cut into a hilltop in the rolling farmlands, four natural-gas wells sit adjacent boxy machines that separate wastewater and hydrocarbons sucked from the ground over two square miles.
Attached to those boxes are gauges small enough to easily escape notice. But they're of outsize importance: They measure methane—a greenhouse gas over 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide—and other emissions. Controlling methane is key to lowering the climate footprint of the natural-gas industry and its efforts to sell itself as the environmentally friendly fossil fuel.
And so Matt Pitzarella, spokesman for natural-gas producer Range Resources, is eager to point out the emissions gauge, and especially eager to point out its results. "Methane levels—zero percent," he says. "You have no issues, nothing coming out."
But overall industry methane emissions across the complex gas-development chain are hardly zero, either in Pennsylvania or nationwide. Their size, however, is a matter of fierce dispute and ongoing research.