Author Archives: Steven Hamburg

STUDY: A Closer Look at Urban Methane Pollution

7174642172_60f5ed16e8_kThe United States produces approximately 33 trillion cubic feet of natural gas each year. A majority of this gas is converted to electricity at power plants or used for industrial purposes, but about one third ends up making the journey from the well head, through underground pipelines, and into our homes and businesses. How much of this gas gets lost along the way—whether it’s through leaky equipment or other factors—is important because of the damaging climate impacts of methane pollution. And a new study published this week in Environmental Science and Technology is helping to expand our understanding of methane emissions in urban environments.

The study—a multi-year collaboration led by Washington State University and included researchers from Aerodyne, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, GHD, Purdue and Pennsylvania State universities—used a variety of techniques to measure the rate at which methane is lost to the atmosphere in Indianapolis, Indiana.

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Moving Up: New Accounting Shows Full Scale of Aliso Canyon and U.S. Methane Leaks

rp_AlisoCanyon4-300x209.jpgA paper today in the journal Science, estimating emissions from the massive methane leak at Aliso Canyon, indicates that nearly 100,000 metric tons of methane escaped into the atmosphere over Southern California – more than previous estimates. The new findings come days after the Environmental Protection Agency released draft results of their updated accounting of methane emissions from the nation’s oil and gas supply chain that shows that emissions are up 27% above the agency’s early estimate.

The more we know about methane emissions, the higher they get. The new findings show not just the massive scale of the oil and gas industry’s methane problem, but also how critical it is to get the science right to both understand this source of a potent climate pollutant and reduce it. We know that cutting methane is one of the fastest, most cost effective ways to curb today’s warming, and when combined with critical efforts to reduce carbon dioxide pollution, substantial climate progress can be made. Read More »

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New Study Finds Oil & Gas Methane Emissions in the Barnett Shale Almost Twice What Official Estimates Suggest

BarnettSynthesisKeyFindings2A 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 »

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New Research Finds Higher Methane Emissions, Reduction Opportunities in Texas’ Barnett Shale Region

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 »

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From Boston, More Troubling News about Methane Emissions

3279565519_b95c881c39_z 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 »

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Using Google Street View in our Fight Against Climate Change

metho-lite-sharing_0Throughout 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 »

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  • Chief Scientist
    Steven Hamburg is EDF’s public voice for its commitment to science-based advocacy and is responsible for the scientific integrity of EDF’s positions and programs. His training and research specialty is ecosystem ecology, with a focus on forests.

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