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Natural Gas Production Destroys The Climate, Doesn't Save it

- 10:56 am - December 5th, 2013

A major new study blows up the whole notion of natural gas as a short-term bridge fuel to a carbon-free economy, according to a recent article

“Natural gas is mostly methane (CH4), a potent heat-trapping gas. If, as now seems likely, natural gas production systems leak 2.7 percent (or more), then gas-fired power loses its near-term advantage over coal and becomes more of a gangplank than a bridge,” the article states.

The article explains that 15 scientists from Harvard, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and other leading institutions have published a “seminal study” entitled Anthropogenic Emissions of Methane in the United States that is based on test results rather than the industry-provided numbers that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses.

CleanTechnica quotes a National Academy of Sciences study that says the EPA’s position on methane emissions is flawed. The agency recently decreased its emission factors for natural gas extraction by 25 to 30 percent, while the new data suggests the EPA should be increasing those factors instead. “This suggests the methane leakage rate from extraction, which EPA recently decreased to about 1.5 percent, is in fact 3 percent or higher,” the article states.

CleanTechnica said the new report confirms the findings of other recent leakage studies. covering very different regions of the country:

• NOAA researchers found in 2012 that natural-gas producers in the Denver area “are losing about 4% of their gas to the atmosphere — not including additional losses in the pipeline and distribution system.”

• A 2013 study from 19 researchers led by NOAA concluded “measurements show that on one February day in the Uinta Basin, the natural gas field leaked 6 to 12 percent of the methane produced, on average, on February days.” The Uinta Basin is of special interest because it “produces about 1 percent of total U.S. natural gas” and fracking has increased there over the past decade.

“The comprehensive nature of this new study strongly suggests these earlier findings were not anomalies, as some have suggested,” CleanTechnica wrote.

The article points out that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported recently that methane is a far more potent a greenhouse gas than we had previously realized, some 34 times stronger a heat-trapping gas than CO2 over a 100-year time scale — and 86 times more potent over a 20-year time frame.

“With methane having both a higher leakage rate and higher global warming potential than previously thought, the notion of methane as a bridge fuel is falling apart,” the article states.

To read the CleanTechnica article, click here.

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