A new scientific study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, coordinated by EDF, reports findings from the most comprehensive examination of regional methane emissions completed to date. Focused on Texas’ Barnett Shale – one of the nation’s major oil-and-gas-producing regions – the study uses a new, more accurate way to determine the total amount of methane escaping into the atmosphere from the region’s oil and gas production, processing and transportation.
The result is that methane emissions in the Barnett Shale are 90 percent higher than EPA’s inventory data would suggest.
This is just one of several recent studies showing a pattern of underestimating methane emissions in locations across the country. One big reason is that conventional inventories typically fail to accurately account for very large, unpredictable emissions from leaks, malfunctions or other problems. In the Barnett study, these were the source of a large share of total emissions.
Why Methane Matters
The higher emissions rate and the agreement among measurement methods represent an important step forward in our understanding of what it will take to mitigate those emissions. Methane is the main ingredient in natural gas, and a highly potent greenhouse gas, with over 80 times the 20-year warming power of carbon dioxide.
When methane leaks, the climate impact of using natural gas increases. In the case of Barnett Shale gas, based on emissions identified in the study, the climate impact is 50 percent higher over 20 years as compared to the use of natural gas in the absence of any emissions. Read More
Methane emissions from vast oil and gas operations in the densely populated Barnett Shale region of Texas are 50 percent higher than estimates based on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) greenhouse gas inventory, according to a series of 11 new papers published today in Environmental Science & Technology.
The majority of these emissions are from a small but widespread number of sources across the region’s oil and gas supply chain. These emissions come from the sort of leaks and equipment malfunctions that are relatively easy to prevent with proper and frequent monitoring and repair practices.
The sprawling Barnett region, fanning out westward from the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth, contains about 30,000 oil and gas wells, 275 compressor stations, and 40 processing plants. It is one of the country’s largest production areas, responsible for 7 percent of total U.S. natural gas output.
Unpredictable, Widespread Sources Dominate Read More
The everyday use of natural gas across the greater Boston area is resulting in much higher emissions of methane than previously thought, according to a study published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. These emissions represent the waste of a valuable energy resource as well as an important source of greenhouse gas, since methane—the main component of natural gas—is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide for the first 20 years it is in the atmosphere.
The reported emissions are more than two times higher than previously estimated using state emissions inventory data, with a yearly average loss rate from delivery and use of natural gas in the Boston urban region of 2.7 percent (with a margin of error of 0.6 percent). That’s enough natural gas to fuel about 200,000 homes each year.
While EPA data indicates that investments by many gas utilities in reducing leaks have made a difference, this study, led by scientist at Harvard University, demonstrates that the national statistics may mask significantly higher emissions in some parts of the country. Read More
Throughout history, maps have played a critical role in shaping our decisions—helping us determine where we are going and how we are going to get there. Now, we’re using them to define a way to address climate change.
Environmental Defense Fund and Google Earth Outreach have worked together to launch a series of maps that show methane leaks from natural gas pipelines under city streets in Boston, Indianapolis and Staten Island. This new tool has the power to greatly improve cities’ and utilities’ ability to minimize methane emissions that contribute to global warming.
Why care about methane?
A recent tide of scientific studies about losses from the natural gas supply chain has made it clear the critical importance of reducing methane emissions (methane is the primary ingredient of natural gas).
One of natural gas's potential benefits over other fossil fuels is that when burned it produces less carbon dioxide emissions, half as much as coal. If used wisely to rapidly displace dirty coal power plants, for example, natural gas could help the country dramatically reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions. Read More
America is in the midst of two booms: one in sensor technology and another in natural gas. Recent innovations—specifically advancements in drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies—have dramatically increased the nation’s access to reserves of natural gas. While this influx of new technology has altered the energy industry, the resulting large-scale development has brought with it some real environmental and climate risks. Now is the time for the same ingenuity that transformed America’s energy landscape to help identify solutions to reduce the impacts caused by increasing supplies of natural gas.
Just this last month, two innovator programs were announced – one led by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and another from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) – both are focused on developing new technologies capable of minimizing methane emissions from the natural gas supply chain. The programs are different but complementary and together signal there is momentum building to engage the best and brightest innovators to help address a consequential component of the climate issue. Read More
It has happened again. Another scientific study finds methane emissions from oil and gas production are higher than previously thought, reinforcing the urgent need to reduce emissions of this powerful climate pollutant. The latest study, accepted today to be published in American Geophysical Union’s Journal of Geophysical Research – Atmospheres, measured methane concentrations in the air over Colorado’s largest oil and gas producing region on two days during early 2012 and adds to our understanding of the environmental impact of oil and gas development.
The study—led by scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at UC-Boulder—suggests between 2.6 and 5.6 percent of gas produced in the Denver Julesburg basin escapes into the air. That’s nearly three times the amount estimated using data from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program. The study also found emissions of smog-forming VOC emissions to be twice as high as estimated based on state data and emissions of benzene, a known carcinogen, to be seven times higher than current state estimates.