Scientific Study Reports that Methane Emissions Are Much Higher than EPA Claims

EPA's own reporting is leaving out important data about oil and gas leaking from tanks. A new study reports actual emissions are 60% higher.

A recently released study published in Science says the EPA’s reporting of methane emissions from gas and oil industry is inaccurate and that the actual emissions are 60% higher.  The study, led by a group of scientists from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) who are associated with Harvard and Princeton University, said that EPA didn’t take in consideration many scientific factors and left out vital information from its report. The study presents irrefutable evidence to date that switching to gas from dirtier fuels like coal might not be a viable climate strategy as its proponents suggest unless the gas industry dramatically improves how it controls leaks.

The study explains the divergence as follow:

Methane emissions from the U.S. oil and natural gas supply chain were estimated using ground-based, facility-scale measurements and validated with aircraft observations in areas accounting for ~30% of U.S. gas production. When scaled up nationally, our facility-based estimate of 2015 supply chain emissions is 13 ± 2 Tg/y, equivalent to 2.3% of gross U.S. gas production. This value is 60% higher than the U.S. EPA inventory estimate, likely because existing inventory methods miss emissions released during abnormal operating conditions. Methane emissions of this magnitude, per unit of natural gas consumed, produce radiative forcing over a 20-year time horizon comparable to the CO2 from natural gas combustion. Significant emission reductions are feasible through rapid detection of the root causes of high emissions and deployment of less failure-prone systems.

“It starts to have a material effect on just how clean a fuel natural gas really is,” said Ramon Alvarez of EDF, one of the authors of the study.

The authors gave a conservative estimate that the methane equivalent to 2.3 percent of all the natural gas produced in the nation is leaking during the production, processing and its transportation of oil and gas every year. This figure doesn’t include leaks from local delivery lines, another common problem in the industry.

Issues with Leaking Tanks

The authors estimated that this much-leaked methane would have roughly the same climate impact in the short-term as emissions from all U.S. coal-fired power plants, in other words, this rate of leaking methane equals the negative effects for the climate in the short term as the carbon dioxide that results from burning natural gas for fuel.

A notable finding was that sudden equipment failure or operator errors and not chronic condition, accounted for a significant amount of the deviation from official estimates of leakage and that better reporting and controls of the leaks by the gas and oil industry could significantly reduce them.

The Scope Weekly cannot help to wonder if the EPA under the guidance of Scott Pruit a climate change denialist, is purposely  misleading the public to benefit the oil and gas industry?  As reported by us previously, various environmental groups are suing the Trump administration for its attempts to roll back various federal regulations on emissions of methane and gas.

The Scope Weekly reached out to the EPA and asked the agency to explain the difference between its reporting and the results of this study but at the time of publishing, hadn’t heard back from the agency. If new information is provided, we will update according.

“A company that finds such a leak might view it as an exception rather than as normal for their operations, so perhaps they don’t include that in what they report,” Alvarez said. “These large emissions are unusual, but they’re real.”


Funding for the study: Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Fiona and Stan Druckenmiller, Heising-Simons Foundation, Bill and Susan Oberndorf, Betsy and Sam Reeves, Robertson Foundation, TomKat Charitable Trust, and the Walton Family Foundation (for EDF authors as well as support of related studies involving D.T.A, S.C.H., A.K., E.J.K., B.K.L., A.J.M., A.L.R., P.B.S., C.S., A.T.S., S.C.W.); DOE National Energy Technology Laboratory (Z.R.B., K.J.D., T.L., A.L.R.); NASA Earth Science Division (D.J.J., E.A.K., J.D.M.); NOAA Climate Program Office (E.A.K., J.P., A.L.R., C.S.).

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