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Methane Leaks from North American Natural Gas Systems

Key findings:

  • First comprehensive look at North American methane emissions: Review of more than 200 studies with conflicting methodologies finds that “Atmospheric tests covering the entire country indicate emissions around 50% more than EPA estimates. And that’s a moderate estimate.”
  • Methane leaks negate the climate change benefits of using natural gas as a transportation fuel: “Switching from diesel to natural gas, that’s not a good policy from a climate perspective”
  • Methane not only leaks during production but elsewhere in the natural gas supply, production and transportation chain: methane could be leaking from facilities where natural gas is stored, compressed or transported

Summary:
Natural gas (NG) is a potential “bridge fuel” during transition to a decarbonized energy system: It emits less carbon dioxide during combustion than other fossil fuels and can be used in many industries. However, because of the high global warming potential of methane (CH4, the major component of NG), climate benefits from NG use depend on system leakage rates. Some recent estimates of leakage have challenged the benefits of switching from coal to NG, a large near-term greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction opportunity (1–3). Also, global atmospheric CH4 concentrations are on the rise, with the causes still poorly understood (4).

Bibliography:
A. R. Brandt, G. A. Heath, E. A. Kort, F. O’Sullivan, G. Pétron, S. M. Jordaan, P. Tans, J. Wilcox, A. M. Gopstein, D. Arent, S. Wofsy, N. J. Brown, R. Bradley, G. D. Stucky, D. Eardley, R. Harriss
Methane Leaks from North American Natural Gas Systems
Science 14 Feb 2014 Vol. 343, Issue 6172, pp. 733-735
DOI: 10.1126/science.1247045

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