This article, Research raises new concerns about climate impact of natural gas, by Gayathri Vaidyanathan for E&E News, requires a subscription but I don’t want you to miss the information so I’ll summarize. Update: Link to full article in Scientific American.
Natural gas fields globally may be leaking enough methane, a potent greenhouse gas, to make the fuel as polluting as coal for the climate over the next few decades, according to a pair of studies published last week.
An even worse finding for the United States in terms of greenhouse gases is that some of its oil and gas fields are emitting more methane than the industry does, on average, in the rest of the world, the research suggests.
Important note: Only the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has done actual measurements of emissions from gas fields without prior notification to industry. (Notifying industry that you’re going to measure the methane from their facilities is like getting notice that your mother-in-law is coming to visit. That’s how you know it’s time to clean the place up.) Overall the leakage rates are based on estimates that largely come from industry.
The natural gas industry globally was leaking between 2 and 4 percent of the gas produced between 2006 and 2011, the studies found. Leakage above 3 percent is enough to negate the climate benefits of natural gas over coal, so the findings indicate there is probably room for the industry to lower emissions.
NOAA measured methane leakage in the Uinta Basin of Utah and found a 9% leakage rate but the scientists believe that may not be the norm. Using many calculations and different measurements, they determined that 2 to 4 percent may be a better estimate. BUT it’s only an estimate. What if they are wrong?
The Obama administration has supported the natural gas industry, in part for the fuel’s climate benefits. Gas emits about half as much carbon dioxide as coal in the power plant, so the government has promoted gas as a transition fuel to a post-carbon future.
The fine print, however, is that natural gas may be as detrimental to the climate as coal in many ways. Its climate challenge lies not during electricity generation, but further upstream — during extraction, processing and distribution of gas from the oil and gas wells to gas burners.
From wellheads, pipes, valves, compressors and various other equipment, gas wells leak raw methane, a greenhouse gas that is 86 times as potent as carbon dioxide over a 20-year time scale, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. While CO2 persists in the atmosphere for centuries, wreaking climate havoc slowly, methane works more rapidly for a short while before decaying into less virulent gases. For the climate equation, both CO2 and methane emissions matter, scientists say.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
This is indisputable proof. About a dozen universities and governments around the world cooporated in these measurements. They have been peer-reviewed up the wazoo.
For my original post about this please see: The real story about methane and the EPA estimates.
We cannot afford to get this wrong folks. For the sake of our children and the planet, it is time to move away from fossil fuels.