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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is underestimating the amount of natural gas that escapes into the atmosphere and aggravates global warming, according to a recent study by experts at Stanford, MIT, Harvard and several national laboratories.
Published in the journal Science last Friday and entitled "Methane Leakage from North American Natural Gas Systems," the report synthesizes diverse findings from more than 200 studies conducted in the United States and Canada. It states that actual methane emissions are 25 to 75 percent higher than reported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It also concludes that leaks from the nation's natural gas system are an important part of the problem.
"The first thorough comparison of evidence for natural gas system leaks confirms that organizations including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have underestimated U.S. methane emissions generally, as well as those from the natural gas industry specifically," states a Stanford University article on the report.
"People who go out and actually measure methane pretty consistently find more emissions than we expect," said the lead author of the new analysis, Adam Brandt, an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University. "Atmospheric tests covering the entire country indicate emissions around 50 percent more than EPA estimates," said Brandt. "And that's a moderate estimate."
The report is of particular interest to distillate fuel wholesalers and retailers because it makes a direct comparison of natural gas and diesel. The analysis finds that powering trucks and buses with natural gas instead of diesel fuel probably makes the globe warmer, because diesel engines are relatively clean. "For natural gas to beat diesel, the gas industry would have to be less leaky than the EPA's current estimate, which the new analysis also finds quite improbable," the Stanford University article states.
"Fueling trucks and buses with natural gas may help local air quality and reduce oil imports, but it is not likely to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Even running passenger cars on natural gas instead of gasoline is probably on the borderline in terms of climate," Brandt said.