Natural gas industry leaks makes gas worse than coal

Back in July, 2018, Anthony J. Marchese and Dan Zimmerle published an article on CNBC regarding studies attempting to measure the level of leakage of methane gas throughout the industry. They found that, while natural gas was rapidly displacing coal in part because it was seen as a cleaner fuel, with only about half of the carbon emissions of burning coal, in fact the high levels of leakage of methane made throughout the production, transmission and burning processes, made natural gas almost as bad as coal. With the possibility that it was actually worse.

Even with a five-year study and with “thousands of methane emissions measurements at more than 700 separate facilities in the productiongatheringprocessingtransmission and storage segments of the natural gas supply chain,” there was a distinct possibility that there was an under-reporting of methane leaks. At the very least, the study was included as part of a compilation of similar studies published in the journal Science which provided the most comprehensive snapshot to date and one that suggested that methane emissions from oil and gas operations were significantly higher than the then current EPA estimates.

The EPA estimates the methane leak rate to be 1.4 percent, which means that for every cubic foot of natural gas drawn from underground reservoirs, 1.4 percent of it is lost into the atmosphere. In contrast, the new study, which synthesized the results from a five-year series of 16 studies coordinated by environmental advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), which involved more than 140 researchers from over 40 institutions and 50 natural gas companies, found that the U.S. oil and gas industry is leaking 13 million metric tons of methane each year, which means the methane leak rate is at least 2.3 percent. This 60 percent difference between new estimates and the EPA’s estimate has profound climate consequences.

An earlier EDF study showed that a methane leak rate of greater than 3 percent would result in no immediate climate benefits from retiring coal-fired power plants in favor of natural gas power plants. Which means even with a 2.3 percent leakage rate, the growing share of U.S. electricity powered by natural gas is doing very little to slow the pace of climate change and may, in fact, be making it worse.


Read more at CNBC:  The US natural gas industry is leaking way more methane than previously thought. Here’s why that matters, by Anthony J. Marchese and Dan Zimmerle, July 6, 2018.