Methane pollution has serious climate consequences. Methane, a major ingredient in natural gas, traps 28 to 34 times more heat than carbon dioxide over a century-long timeline.
The actual methane emissions during drilling from the seven wells were 100 to 1,000 times higher than industry estimates. Airplanes measured the plumes of methane above the wells, which gave Sherson's team a top-down view of pollution sources.
The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published the results.
Where these seven wells malfunctioning or leaking? Or do all wells spew methane during drilling? Sherson couldn't comment on that, he told Discovery News.
"During our study, we quantified emissions from several high-emitting wells," Sherson said. "After the fact, we determined from our analysis that these were all in the drilling phase."
Keeping an eye in the sky with airborne sensors could bolster weaknesses in current methods of monitoring methane release.
"The top-down approach clearly represents an important complementary method that could be added to better define the impacts of shale gas development," Sherson said in the press release.