As I write this, a massive methane leak from a ruptured natural gas storage facility in California is causing, every day, as much climate damage over the next 20 years as seven million cars on the road.
And as the climate talks here in Paris continued over the weekend, The Washington Post noted an increased focus on short-lived climate pollutants such as methane. This focus is an absolute necessity: If we want to solve climate change, we have no choice but to tackle methane emissions.
According to data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, methane pollution is responsible for 25 percent of the warming our planet is experiencing today. It has this incredible impact because it’s 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over the short term.
The largest industrial source of methane emissions is the oil and gas industry, and their environmental impact is staggering: A short-term climate impact equivalent to 40 percent of global coal combustion. That’s a lot of potential benefit to the climate, if we can make significant reductions.
That math is why the danger of unchecked methane pollution also offers us such an opportunity. Read More
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
One of the country’s largest leaks ever of natural gas, which is primarily made up of the potent greenhouse gas methane, has been going on in California’s Aliso Canyon for over a month. The volume that’s been leaking has been staggering—and the impacts to local residents severe enough to warrant relocating hundreds of families.
Major disasters like the one unfolding in Aliso Canyon have a tendency to grab our attention because the impacts are so acute and can be immediately documented—from the volume of methane that’s leaked (latest climate impacts estimate: equivalent to driving 160,000 cars/year) to the documented health impacts (bloody noses, headaches, breathing difficulties, nausea).
The Aliso Canyon leak, however, also provides us a good reminder of what communities across the U.S. who are close to oil and gas facilities have been increasingly concerned about—the ongoing environmental impact of air pollution that is being released into their neighborhoods, and the safety of those operations. Most of the pollution is invisible to the naked eye, but infrared cameras are bringing the problem into sharper focus, and with that a louder call for action and oversight by federal officials. EPA estimates that today, methane leaks from onshore oil and gas development is contributing climate impacts equivalent to driving nearly 130 million cars annually. And their emissions are contributing to unhealthy air for residents living next door and downwind of this development. Read More
1. Methane is a supercharged climate pollutant
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas packing a climate punch 84 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after it is released. More than a third of the climate impact we feel today is caused by short-lived pollutants, including methane, which accounts for most of that amount. These emissions are worsening already extreme weather patterns responsible for more frequent, higher intensity storms. And, in the absence of action, these trends are expected to accelerate.
2. The oil and gas industry is responsible for over 7 million tons of methane pollution
The U.S. oil and gas sector is estimated to release more than 7 million metric tons of methane emissions into the atmosphere each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Read More
When operators pull oil out of the ground, it often comes up with copious amounts of natural gas. This “associated gas” can be captured and brought to market, creating an additional revenue source for operators. But if no gathering infrastructure or other methods of capture are deployed, operators either vent the gas to the atmosphere or burn it off with controlled flares. Venting results in the release of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Flaring results in troublesome emissions as well, including CO2 and hazardous air pollutants.
According to the Wyoming Oil and gas Conservation Commission (WOGCC), Wyoming’s oil and gas operators vented and flared more than five billion cubic feet of natural gas in 2014. Five billion cubic feet of gas that could be sold to generate taxes and royalties, heat homes and power machinery across the country, instead was wasted. Read More
Regulators Bless Plans to Use Information Developed by Environmental Defense Fund and Google in $900M Pipeline Upgrade Program to Improve Safety, Reduce Waste and Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions
New York and New Jersey, like many older communities in the US, have thousands of miles of old, leak-prone gas lines under their streets, some dating back to the late 1800s. Besides safety concerns, this leaking natural gas – which is mostly methane – is a potent greenhouse gas and a huge waste that’s ultimately paid for by utility customers. While major leaks posing immediate risk are typically fixed quickly, thousands of others can persist for months or years.
Until now, it’s been hard to measure the problem on a large scale, or to use that information to better focus on upgrades with the biggest benefit for the buck. Read More
Also posted in Climate, Methane