Study: EPA vastly underestimated methane leaks

A comprehensive new study by Stanford and published in the most respected peer-reviewed journal in the world concludes that EPA estimates of methane leakage are 50% too low.

Methane is the most powerful greenhouse gas.

UPDATE: From Tony Ingraffea regarding the findings of this study:

Its findings are largely consistent with what was published by Howarth et al. in 2011: oil/gas industry and the EPA have been underestimating national -scale methane emissions, by a large margin.

It once again indicates that industry and the EPA have been underestimating, when we all should have been out there measuring, BEFORE setting energy policy. However, I disagree with the assertion that a significant dent can be made in methane emissions quickly and cheaply by an industry that refuses to accept that their estimates have been wrong. Ratepayers will have to pay to fix leaking infrastructure, IF the industry is forced to make the fixes, and, given the brief 20-year period we have left to DECREASE CO2eq emissions, such fixes will not be in time. They just make the “bridge” too long in time.

Regarding the study’s conclusion that even though major methane leaks exist, their drawbacks do not eclipse the benefits of switching from coal to natural gas as the energy source for electric power generation?

I disagree. Once again, there is a stubborn use of the 100-year impact of methane on global warming, a factor about 30 times that of CO2. All the current consensus climate science, summarized in IPCC AR 5, says that we only have about 20-30 years before we reach the warning zone of temperature rise that could lead to climate tipping points. And we can’t wait 20-30 years to START decreasing CO2eq emissions from fossil fuels. Over a 20-year period, the consensus impact factor for methane is about 80, and some peer-reviewed estimates say it could be over 100. There is NO scientific justification for the use of a 100-year period: that is a policy decision, perhaps based on faulty scientific understanding of the climate change situation in which we find ourselves, perhaps based on political wishful thinking. When one looks at the coal-methane tradeoff for electricity generation, the break-even leak rate over a 20-year period is less than 3%. And only about 1/3 of our methane usage is for electricity generation. Again, there is a stubborn refusal to admit that doing something non-fossil-foolish about the other two-thirds is even more important. This paper should have emphasized that the continued heating of our homes and businesses and our hot water with electricity generated from combusting methane cannot be scientifically justified from a climate change perspective.

Also see:


The real story about methane and the EPA estimates

What do leeches have to do with fracking and climate change?


About Sharon Wilson

Sharon Wilson is considered a leading citizen expert on the impacts of shale oil and gas extraction. She is the go-to person whether it’s top EPA officials from D.C., national and international news networks, or residents facing the shock of eminent domain and the devastating environmental effects of natural gas development in their backyards.


  1. Anuymous says

    The EPA is just another Federal level “regulator” which is doing nothing recently to help the peasants who live on the land. The head hog in DC is a bad boy as far as helping us (the peasants) against O&G and the corrupt and oil soaked Texas courts here in Tx.

  2. Alberta Neighbor says

    Speaking of methane leaks …

    February 11, 2014 – “For nearly a month, a building that houses six physician practices next to Southwest Regional Medical Center in Waynesburg has been so full of gas as to render it uninhabitable.

    The hospital, which owns the Medical Arts Building, emptied the facility Jan. 14 after a technician from Peoples Natural Gas found a leak during an annual inspection.

    The leak was repaired, but the gas concentration didn’t subside.

    It made up more than 3 percent of the air inside, according to information provided to the state Department of Environmental Protection. Methane becomes an explosion risk at 5 percent. The soil around the building had methane concentrations close to 90 percent.

    ‘These conditions represent a clear threat to public health and safety,’ Southwest’s CEO, Cynthia Cowie, and facilities director Kevin Sims wrote in a complaint to the DEP on Feb. 6. ‘This is a hardship which will have a significant impact on a small hospital like ours.’

    The hospital is asking the state to find out who is to blame for the methane buildup and make them pay for remediation.

    Suspects are numerous. Pipelines from two natural gas utilities — Columbia Gas and Equitable Gas, which is owned by Peoples — run through the area.

    A number of natural gas wells, some conventional and at least one Marcellus Shale well, are pumping out gas within a mile of the building, while plugged coalbed methane wells are scattered throughout the area.

    Southwest Regional Medical Center, in the meantime, has hired its own consultant — Fred Baldassare, owner of Murrysville-based Echelon Applied Geoscience Consulting and a former gas migration expert for the DEP.

    His analysis showed the gas didn’t come from a pipeline or a coal mine, but rather from a natural gas producing formation.

    ‘This is a fresh leak that is a strong, very strong concentration,’ Mr. Baldassare said.

    ‘There’s always the concern that this could get bigger.'”