Methane leaks undermine the benefits of using natural gas

Oil producer burning off natural gas Natural gas has long been “promoted as a clean alternative to other fossil fuels.”  It’s main ingredient is methane.  Compared to other greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, methane does not stay in the atmosphere as long but, while it’s there, “its warming effect is much stronger.” A new independent study shows that methane “has been leaking from oil and gas facilities [in the United States] at far higher rates than governmental regulators claim.” These leaks “have nearly doubled the climate impact of natural gas, causing warming on par with carbon dioxide-emitting coal plants for 2 decades.” The benefits of burning natural gas instead of coal “are being undermined by the leaks.”  Natural gas emits less CO2 than coal when burned.  The U.S. EPA is “understating industry methane leaks by approximately 60%.” According to the study, “in 2015 methane leaks represented 2.3% of total gas production nationwide”; in comparison, the U.S. EPA estimated 1.4%.  While the percentages and the difference between them seems small, what they represent–the actual amount of methane leaked–is very large.  Earlier studies also showed that leaks of methane at both production and distribution sites are underestimated. The more leakage, the smaller the environmental benefit of using natural gas. Read the article (Warren Cornwall, Science, June 21, 2018).  

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