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New Study Indicates Higher Methane Emissions from Natural Gas Production

A new study in the journal Science finds that methane emissions from the natural gas supply chain are higher than previously thought. The results conclude that higher methane emissions negate the benefit of switching the nation’s buses and trucks from diesel to natural gas. This undermines the notion that using natural gas in the transportation sector will have significant environmental benefits, and in fact, according to the study, diesel may actually be the preferred option.

National methane emissions are 25%-75% higher than the Environmental Protection Agency previously thought, according to the study. That is because EPA hasn’t accounted for leakage of methane in the natural gas production process – including from wellheads, pipelines, compressor stations, and storage tanks. Once accounted for, natural gas’ environmental profile looks much worse.

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Still, natural gas maintains an environmental benefit over coal for electricity generation. Natural gas produces lower carbon pollution over a 100 year timeframe compared to coal, even accounting for higher rates of methane emissions.

The study’s authors argue that leaks can be controlled with better technologies that capture methane before it is emitted into the atmosphere. This would require natural gas drillers to install equipment at their facilities, a step that is not mandatory at this point since there are no federal regulations on methane emissions for oil and gas drilling. The industry argues that it is taking voluntary steps to reduce methane emissions in its supply chain and so additional regulations are not necessary.

The new study certainly doesn’t settle the science on natural gas production, and it contains conclusions that can be used to the advantage of all sides on the issue. The study was conducted by scientists at Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

By James Burgess of Oilprice.com



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