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Natural Gas Industry Must Tighten Up Methane Leaks — And Save $2 Billion Per Year In The Process

By Climate Guest Contributor on March 29, 2012 at 9:38 am

"Natural Gas Industry Must Tighten Up Methane Leaks — And Save $2 Billion Per Year In The Process"

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by Tom Kenworthy

In a stunning report last year, the National Center for Atmospheric Research concluded that substituting natural gas for coal as an energy source would actually increase global warming for many decades – unless methane leakage rates can be kept below 2%.

Even though we don’t know much about the actual leakage rate for methane – the major component of natural gas and a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 – that NCAR study is bad news. It’s especially bad for shale gas, in part because hydraulic fracturing is believed to have a higher life-cycle leakage rate during the production and transport phases of development.

In a separate NOAA study in February, researchers found that natural gas companies in a Colorado field were losing about 4% of methane during production, and that doesn’t include the losses from leaks in the pipeline and distribution system.


The task of controlling fugitive methane leaks is critical if switching to natural gas is going to do anything to aide the fight against climate change.

According to one environmental organization, controlling those leaks isn’t just necessary for the environment — it’s also potentially profitable.

A report just released by the Natural Resources Defense Council argues that industry – with strong government oversight – can reduce methane losses by 80%, and make $2 billion a year in the process by employing what the group calls “technically proven, commercially available, and profitable” control technologies.

Those ten technologies can be used at different stages of the production process: when drilling at hydraulic fracturing wells; when removing moisture from the gas; and when the gas is being compressed for transport through pipelines.

The report acknowledges that voluntary gas saving programs like the EPA’s Natural Gas STAR effort aren’t enough to stimulate this process, and that mandatory programs would need to be put in place. The EPA estimates that proposed regulations on new oil and gas sources coul reduce methane emissions by as much as 25%. NRDC recommends that leakage controls should also apply to existing oil and gas industry sources and that the federal government should be particularly tough on drilling operations on public lands.

Tom Kenworthy is a Senior Fellow with the Public Lands team at American Progress

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2 Responses to Natural Gas Industry Must Tighten Up Methane Leaks — And Save $2 Billion Per Year In The Process

  1. Gail Zawacki says:

    Recent studies show that we must slow methane release even as we reduce CO2 emissions, both because it contributes to warming and especially because methane causes rising levels of background tropospheric ozone, which is toxic to trees and annual agricultural crops.

    Methane is longer lived than NOx precursors derived from cars, coal plants, and fertilizers, which are the traditional source of high ozone peaks. Many places have already surpassed the threshold at which constant lower levels damage vegetation. Links to research:

    http://witsendnj.blogspot.com/2012/03/game-of-clue.html

  2. Geoff Beacon says:

    Good to read about Peter Cox in the New Scientist:
    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21328583.800-methane-cuts-could-delay-climate-change-by-15-years.html

    We release methane in many ways – leaks from gas pipelines and coal mines, from landfills, the guts of livestock and rice paddies. Curbing these emissions would bring a manifold benefit for climate, says Cox….

    An atmosphere containing less methane but more CO2 would encourage forests and other vegetation on land to absorb more carbon. This would happen in two ways. First, the extra CO2 would itself act as a fertiliser for vegetation… Second, less methane would minimise the formation of tropospheric ozone, which damages plant growth.