Bridge Out: Bombshell Study Finds Methane Emissions From Natural Gas Production Far H

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Bridge Out: Bombshell Study Finds Methane Emissions From Natural Gas Production Far Higher Than EPA Estimates


By Joe Romm on November 25, 2013 at 4:55 pm
A major new study blows up the whole notion of natural gas as a short-term bridge fuel to a carbon-free economy.

Natural gas is mostly methane (CH4), a potent heat-trapping gas. If, as now seems likely, natural gas production systems leak 2.7% (or more), then gas-fired power loses its near-term advantage over coal and becomes more of a gangplank than a bridge. Worse, without a carbon price, some gas displaces renewable energy, further undercutting any benefit it might have had.

Fifteen scientists from some of the leading institutions in the world — including Harvard, NOAA and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab — have published a seminal study, “Anthropogenic emissions of methane in the United States.” Crucially, it is based on “comprehensive atmospheric methane observations, extensive spatial datasets, and a high-resolution atmospheric transport model,” rather than the industry-provided numbers EPA uses.

Indeed, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study by Scot Miller et al takes the unusual step of explicitly criticizing the EPA:


The US EPA recently decreased its CH4 emission factors for fossil fuel extraction and processing by 25–30% (for 1990–2011), but we find that CH4 data from across North America instead indicate the need for a larger adjustment of the opposite sign.

D’oh!

How much larger? The study found greenhouse gas emissions from “fossil fuel extraction and processing (i.e., oil and/or natural gas) are likely a factor of two or greater than cited in existing studies.” In particular, they concluded, “regional methane emissions due to fossil fuel extraction and processing could be 4.9 ± 2.6 times larger than in EDGAR, the most comprehensive global methane inventory.”

This suggests the methane leakage rate from natural gas production, which EPA recently decreased to about 1.5%, is in fact 3% or higher.

This broad-based look at methane emissions confirms the findings of 3 recent leakage studies covering very different regions of the country:
•NOAA researchers found in 2012 that natural-gas producers in the Denver area “are losing about 4% of their gas to the atmosphere — not including additional losses in the pipeline and distribution system.”
•A 2013 study by NOAA found leaks from oil and gas exploration and extraction in the L.A. basin representing “about 17% of the natural gas produced in the region, similar to the leak rate estimated by the California Air Resources Board using other methods.” Almost all the gas produced in the basin is “associated” with oil production (rather than, say, fracked). Associated gas is still about a fifth of total U.S. gas production.
•Another 2013 study from 19 researchers led by NOAA concluded “measurements show that on one February day in the Uinta Basin, the natural gas field leaked 6 to 12 percent of the methane produced, on average, on February days.” The Uinta Basin is of special interest because it “produces about 1 percent of total U.S. natural gas” and fracking has increased there over the past decade.
The comprehensive nature of this new study strongly suggests these earlier findings were not anomalies, as some have suggested.

Indeed, all of these findings taken together vindicate the concerns of high leakage rates raised by Cornell professors Howarth, Santoro and Ingraffea, which I reported on back in 2011. I asked Ingraffea to comment on the new study. He wrote:


The results presented by Miller and his team are another serious challenge to an “all of the above” energy policy that relies on negotiated estimates of methane emissions, rather than actual and representative emission measurements, while at the same time claiming serious concern about climate change. A growing series of regional, top-down measurements by this team and others, now on a national scale, is proving to be a more rational approach to accounting for the highly skewed distribution of methane emission sources.

He added, “That methane bridge is starting to crack.”

We have seen a number of cracks this year in the methane bridge — bringing it to the point of collapse. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported recently that methane is a far more potent a greenhouse gas than we had previously realized, some 34 times stronger a heat-trapping gas than CO2 over a 100-year time scale — and 86 times more potent over a 20-year time frame.

With methane having both a higher leakage rate and higher global warming potential than previously thought, the notion of methane as a bridge fuel is falling apart.

Yes, it’s true a recent study finds the best-fracked wells have low methane leak rates — but that study ignored the super-emitters that are responsible for the bulk of the fugitive emissions.

And remember, for natural gas to be a bridge fuel to a carbon-free future (rather than a detour around it), gas must replace coal only, rather than replacing some combination of coal, renewables, nuclear power, and energy efficiency — which is obviously what will happen in the real world absent a price on carbon pollution. The most comprehensive modeling to date, by fourteen teams from different organizations, found that abundant and cheap natural gas has little net impact on U.S. CO2 growth (especially post-2020) compared to the case of low shale gas penetration precisely because it displaces carbon-free energy. Globally, the International Energy Agency finds a dash to gas would destroy a livable climate.
Bridge Out: Bombshell Study Finds Methane Emissions From Natural Gas Production Far Higher Than EPA Estimates | ThinkProgress

Maybe natural gas isn't so good after all.:doubt:
 
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Bombshell Study: High Methane Emissions Measured Over Gas Field “May Offset Climate Benefits of Natural Gas”

By Joe Romm on February 8, 2012 at 6:29 pm
Bombshell Study: High Methane Emissions Measured Over Gas Field "May Offset Climate Benefits of Natural Gas" | ThinkProgress

Air sampling by NOAA over Colorado Finds 4% Methane Leakage, More Than Double Industry Claims



How much methane leaks during the entire lifecycle of unconventional gas has emerged as a key question in the fracking debate. Natural gas is mostly methane (CH4). And methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than (CO2), which is released when any hydrocarbon, like natural gas, is burned.

Even without a high-leakage rate for shale gas, we know that “Absent a Serious Price for Global Warming Pollution, Natural Gas Is A Bridge To Nowhere.”

But the leakage rate does matter. A major 2011 study by Tom Wigley of the Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) concluded: http://thinkprogress.org/romm/2011/...om-coal-to-gas-increases-warming-for-decades/


The most important result, however, in accord with the above authors, is that, unless leakage rates for new methane can be kept below 2%, substituting gas for coal is not an effective means for reducing the magnitude of future climate change.

The industry has tended kept most of the data secret while downplaying the leakage issue. Yet I know of no independent analysis that finds a rate below 2%, including one by the National Energy Technology Laboratory, the DOE’s premier fossil fuel lab.

Now, as the journal Nature reports, we finally have some actual air sampling measurements, and they appear to confirm the higher estimates put forward by Cornell professor Robert Howarth:


When US government scientists began sampling the air from a tower north of Denver, Colorado, they expected urban smog — but not strong whiffs of what looked like natural gas. They eventually linked the mysterious pollution to a nearby natural-gas field, and their investigation has now produced the first hard evidence that the cleanest-burning fossil fuel might not be much better than coal when it comes to climate change.

Led by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Colorado, Boulder, the study estimates that natural-gas producers in an area known as the Denver-Julesburg Basin are losing about 4% of their gas to the atmosphere — not including additional losses in the pipeline and distribution system. This is more than double the official inventory, but roughly in line with estimates made in 2011 that have been challenged by industry. And because methane is some 25 times more efficient than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere, releases of that magnitude could effectively offset the environmental edge that natural gas is said to enjoy over other fossil fuels.
http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/csd/news/2013/140_0514.html

Mystery solved: "Extra" methane in LA's air traced to fossil-fuel sources
14 May 2013

For scientists studying the sources of methane – a potent greenhouse gas – in the Los Angeles basin, things have never quite added up properly. Tallies, also known as inventories, of the amount of methane estimated to be given off by various sources (such as landfills, oil and gas pipeline leaks, dairy farms, and oil extraction and development activities) fall about 35% short of what is actually in the atmosphere.

A new study, led by ESRL CSD scientists at NOAA and its Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder, used a novel approach to trace the methane back to its sources, and found that the extra methane is likely coming from sources related to fossil fuels. Those sources include leaks from natural gas pipelines and other oil/gas activities, as well as seepage from natural geologic sites such as the famous La Brea Tar Pits.

The research helps to resolve the discrepancy, which had been noted by several previous studies but had eluded a detailed explanation – until now.

"The key was to measure multiple chemicals in the air, because the different sources of methane have different combinations of other hydrocarbons such as propane, ethane, and butane," said Jeff Peischl, lead author and CIRES scientist working at CSD in Boulder. "The combination is like a signature or fingerprint that we could trace back and attribute to a specific type of source, such as a landfill or a pipeline."
The above "think progress" note...>•A 2013 study by NOAA found leaks from oil and gas exploration and extraction in the L.A. basin representing “about 17% of the natural gas produced in the region, similar to the leak rate estimated by the California Air Resources Board using other methods.” Almost all the gas produced in the basin is “associated” with oil production (rather than, say, fracked). Associated gas is still about a fifth of total U.S. gas production.
 
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Old Rocks

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Another Think progress far left Blog site as "fact" thread.

* yawn *
From NOAA, not a blog, dumb ass. Are you ever going to post intelligently?

NOAA ESRL CSD: News & Events 2013

"The clues are in the chemistry," said Peischl, "and we could use our data to put a number on the amount of methane emitted by the different sources. When we added everything up, we found that the sources related to fossil fuels were emitting more methane than accounted for in the inventories."
So how do the various methane sources add up in the LA basin, according to the new study? The scientists found that landfills, dairies, and wastewater treatment facilities emit about 40% of the total amount of methane emissions in the LA basin. A similar amount comes from a combination of leaks from existing pipelines and seeps from geologic sources—a human source and a natural source that each consist primarily of methane with small amounts of ethane and propane and cannot be distinguished using the method of the study. The bulk of the remainder of the methane in Los Angeles (about 8%) is due to leaks from exploration and extraction activities of the local oil and gas industry. This number represents about 17% of the natural gas produced in the region, similar to the leak rate estimated by the California Air Resources Board using other methods
 

skookerasbil

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This stuff is only important to people who like to do the internet banter science hobby.


Just wanted to sorta bring this thread into a little bit of perspective.
 

wideEyedPupil

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The Joe Romm article link is dead. I've tried searching Think Progress with google for the article and it's a definite 404. Can't someone tell TP please?
 

Mr. H.

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Why do you numbskulls constantly harp on hydrocarbons?

Ruminant Livestock contributes 80 million metric tons of methane to the atmosphere annually. Whoopsie! That's agriculture. Hands off that shit. The hydrocarbon industries are much easier pickings.
Can't go fucking with those God-made farmers now, can we?

Natural gas operations have vastly improved in this respect, and are bettering their game every day.

Here we have an industry that is making a conscious effort to reduce emissions, compared to an industry (agriculture) that could give a shit. And you all could give a shit.
 

Mr. H.

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And the real irony here is that agricultural practices today would not exist if it weren't for hydrocarbons.

You clowns have your priorities totally fucked up.
 

elektra

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Natural gas use has increased largely to produce the materials needed to manufacture the world's largest Wind turbines and solar energy power plants.

The worlds largest solar power plant, Ivanpah can not operate without natural gas.

Stop
 

westwall

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Translation: "Oh shit. They aren't buying the CO2 fable anymore so we need to manufacture a new boogey monster to relieve them of their money and freedoms."

Same old con, different name.
 

IanC

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Figure 1.7: Observed globally and annually averaged methane concentrations in parts per billion (ppb) since 1990 compared with projections from the previous IPCC assessments. Estimated observed global annual CH4 concentrations are shown in black (NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory measurements, updated from Dlugokencky et al., 2009 see NOAA ESRL Global Monitoring Division). The shading shows the largest model projected range of global annual CH4 concentrations from 1990–2015 from FAR (Scenario D and business-as-usual), SAR (IS92d and IS92e), TAR (B1p and A1p), and AR4 (B1 and A1B). Uncertainties in the observations are less than 1.5 ppb. Moreover, the publication years of the assessment reports are shown. Source: page 42 of Chapter 1 of the IPCC AR5 second order draft.


I know I am repeating myself, but this graph of methane levels vs IPCC projections of methane levels gives yet another reason why the computer models fail to accurately predict global temperatures. GIGO
 

Abraham3

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Yet the wedge of each scenario is shown starting PRIOR to the date the assessment was made.

Deceptive.
 
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whitehall

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Here's how you do it. You estimate low and act shocked when the results are higher than estimated. The EPA is nothing but a hit squad for the administration.
 

Abraham3

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I wouldn't intentionally lie. The trick on that graph has become commonplace among deniers. Roy Spencer did the same thing on data posted here within the last couple of weeks. It is a lie.
 

IanC

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Yet the wedge of each scenario is shown starting PRIOR to the date the assessment was made.

Deceptive.


I am assuming that you are referring to my post.

the IPCC reports are years in the making. the cutoff dates for references and other information are well before the publication date (although the IPCC has been known to use post cutoff material if it suits them). why do you think it is deceptive of the IPCC to start their projections at a point where they have current data, rather than start in the future with incomplete data? have you actually given this any thought or are you just pissed off that skeptics are using the IPCC's own words against them?
 

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