If you think natural gas is a clean fossil fuel, you’re correct — when it comes to the combustion side of the formula. The production and distribution side and their role in emissions is another matter though — a bad matter.
Here, methane emissions are abundant, even without flaring.
Traditional US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calculations regarding the issue of natural gas leaking have linked at least one-quarter of human-caused methane emissions to the production of natural gas, including processing and distribution to the end-user.
Sadly, researchers now believe that number is considerably higher.
The researchers discovered that a small fraction of facilities that collect, process and compress natural gas are responsible for a disproportionately high percentage of methane emissions. They also found that the EPA’s new reporting program doesn’t account for superemitters — sites that leak or vent large amounts of methane — or some equipment and operating modes that are major sources of the gas. They conclude that the program could be missing almost two-thirds of the methane emissions from the natural gas system.
Considering compelling evidence citing human activity as a cause of climate change, this is scary new — especially knowing methane emissions are considered far worse than carbon dioxide for trapping environmental heat.
Scientists are reporting that previous EPA calculations “vastly underestimates methane emissions from the growing natural gas industry.”
Findings about the research were published in two American Chemical Society (ACS) papers in its journal Environmental Science & Technology. One goal from this research is to help the industry clamp down on “superemitter” leaks.
In a story provided by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Allen L. Robinson and colleagues note that the primary component of natural gas is methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide.
The EPA estimates that nearly one-quarter of methane emissions related to human activities comes from producing natural gas, processing it and getting it into the homes of millions across the country. But the agency based its estimate on data from 20 years ago. Robinson’s team wanted to see if more recent changes in the industry and technology could further refine the numbers.