Boosted By Methane Releases, Oil And Gas Sector Is Number Two in Global Warming Pollution

frackingBy Tom Kenworthy

When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, power plants are the 800-pound gorilla in the room. But a new report from the Environmental Protection Agency shows that oil and natural gas are a pretty sizable monkey on our climate back as well.

Reporting for the first time on GHGs from petroleum and natural gas systems, the EPA this week said that the oil and gas sector ranked second in emissions to power plants, releasing 225 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2011. More than a third of that came from methane, the main constituent of natural gas, and a far more potent global warming gas than carbon dioxide.

The oil and gas sector was responsible for 40 percent of total U.S. methane emissions. In terms of greenhouse gas equivalent, the sector’s overall emissions were only about 1/10th those of power plants.

Emissions from petroleum and natural gas systems come from a range of activities from drilling oil and gas wells both onshore and offshore, and the processing, transmission, storage and distribution of natural gas.

This was the second year that EPA, directed by Congress, has reported U.S. GHG emission data. The 2011 data includes a total of 41 sources, 12 of them new in the second year of the program.

This year’s release of the data shows that power plant emissions, which account for about one-third of all U.S. emissions, were abut 4.6 percent lower than 2010 levels.

Refineries ranked number three on the list of biggest emitters, with about 182 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.

Tom Kenworthy is a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

3 Responses to Boosted By Methane Releases, Oil And Gas Sector Is Number Two in Global Warming Pollution

  1. Sasparilla says:

    Nearly all the Shale Oil wells (and there is a lot of them) just flare off the associated methane that comes from their drilling – as there isn’t a cost effective way to get it to market from most of those wells.

    The climate change action world was going to be such an easier place before the tracking technology unlocked all these non-conventional oil and natural gas resources (which are much larger than the conventional resources).

  2. Sasparilla says:

    That was “fracking” technology, not “tracking” technology…dumb autocorrect…

  3. Great to highlight the significance of methane specifically, and the oil and gas sector generally, in US greenhouse gas emissions, thanks!

    Care in use of terminology is of course important in helping to build accurate pictures of what’s going on. With “Refineries,” as a group, coming in a fairly close second in CO2e emissions to “Petroleum and Natural Gas Systems,” I’d consider including them in the concept of the “oil and gas sector”.

    With this interpretation of the concept “sector”, the U.S. oil and gas sector accounts for 407 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2011.

    That 407 million metric tons does not include the vast emissions from the actual downstream use of the carbon-centric products made in the “oil and gas sector”.

    Those implicit emissions, are buried, as far as I can see so far, in the opaque “Suppliers” section of the EPA data.