Methane Emissions from Oil & Natural Gas Exceed Estimates


Credit: Glen Dillon / CC BY 3.0

Pipelines and equipment that bring natural gas into homes and power plants collected from multiple wells are culpable for an astonishing amount of methane emissions. Nearly 100 billion cubic feet of natural gas is lost every year by natural gas gathering facilities, which is eight times the estimated amount evaluated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Environmental Defense Fund, which sponsored the study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, said that it would raise the entire system-wide estimate by about 25 % if it counted the recently discovered leaks.

The average person is unaware of the gathering and processing sector, a section of the supply chain, and the main culprit behind the biggest single chunk of natural gas emissions. The study, led by researchers at Colorado State University, involved measuring 114 natural gas gathering facilities and 16 processing plants in 13 states.

According to the new study, methane is the main constituent of natural gas and has a more intoxicating short-term effect on climate change than carbon dioxide. The effect that current emissions would have on climate change over 20 years would equal 37 coal-fired power plants.

There’s a technical reason behind the release of methane into the air. Pneumatic devices employ energy from the pressurized natural gas used in the transmission sector to release or bleed natural gas to the atmosphere as part of normal operation. Companies can substitute other relatively inexpensive technologies such as non-bleed pneumatic devices, but they are reluctant to change.

The Obama administration, while promoting the natural gas boom, also pushed for companies to minimize leaks. The E.P.A. proposed new standards for methane emissions, but that applies only to new and modified equipment. But these don’t help monitor the equipment that is already in the field and operating.

According to the study, the amount of methane leak emissions each year could heat 3.2 million homes. We are wasting a valuable resource in addition to harming the environment. The research would definitely help businesses perform better and get the methane back, which would ultimately be in everybody’s best interest.

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