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.
Nearly every month, for the past six months, a new scientific study has been released that provides new insights in to where methane, a highly potent, climate-destabilizing greenhouse gas, could be reduced across the entire natural gas system – the next six months will be no different. But this week, a new joint Purdue-Cornell study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed high emissions from drilling.
This commentary originally appeared on the EDF Voices Blog.
Mounting scientific evidence underscores the crucial importance of reducing methane emissions in the U.S. The latest study, published today in the journal Science, reviewed available data from the past 20 years and found that methane emissions from the U.S. natural gas supply chain are almost two times greater than current official estimates – flagging once again that methane emissions are a serious problem. However, the Stanford-led team also concluded that the current levels of methane leakage negates the climate benefit of switching to natural gas under some scenarios and not others, such as moving from coal-powered to natural gas electric generation.
As for what contributes to the higher than expected emissions, the study authors cited differing measurement techniques—including “bottom-up” direct measurement at the source, “top-down” readings from aircraft, and others—as well as the presence of “super-emitters” (a small number of sites or pieces of equipment producing a large share of emissions). Super-emitters are not easily sampled using most bottom-up direct measurement approaches. The team also spotlighted challenges associated with an increasingly ambiguous distinction between emissions from natural gas and oil production, both of which contribute methane to the atmosphere.