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Greenhouse Gases

Study finds natural gas climate advantage nixed by methane loss

U.S. natural gas production loses 2.3% of methane to leaks

by Jeff Johnson
June 22, 2018

Methane leakage from the U.S. oil and natural gas supply chain is 60% higher than EPA estimates, according to a new study (Science 2018 DOI: 10.1126/science.aar7204).

The impact of the leakage is significant particularly in the short term because methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, has more than 80 times the climate warming potency of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years in the atmosphere.

A multi-institution effort led by Ramón A. Alvarez of the Environmental Defense Fund, the study attempted to resolve wide differences in methane emissions estimates. The researchers coupled ground-based, facility-specific measurements with aircraft observations in nine basins that account for some 30% of U.S. gas production.

The study found that methane loss is 2.3% of gross U.S. natural gas production. Natural gas has been touted as cleaner in terms of climate impact than coal when burned to generate electricity. However, the study concludes that over those first 20 years after emission, natural gas loses its climate advantage since the impact of methane leakage equals the climate benefit of substituting natural gas for coal.

Most of the newly identified leaks came from natural gas production operations, particularly leaks from vents and hatches in tanks holding hydrocarbon liquids.


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