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Methane Leaks from North American Natural Gas Systems

2/15/2014

the EPA is severely underestimating the amount of natural gas that leaks into the atmosphere during drilling, processing, and distribution. Natural and Potential Induced Methane Leakage in the Karoo: new studies needed following USA leads.
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Natural and Potential Induced Methane Leakage in the Karoo: new studies needed following USA leads.

 

Methane Leaks from North American Natural Gas Systems”

A new paper published in the journal Science concludes that the EPA is severely underestimating the amount of natural gas that leaks into the atmosphere during drilling, processing, and distribution.

See Policy Forum: Science, A. R. Brandt et al., SCIENCE, 343 14 FEBRUARY 2014, 733-735.

And those leaks are important, because natural gas is basically just methane. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, responsible for perhaps a fifth of global warming since the 18th century. Levels of methane detected in the atmosphere have been rising rapidly since 2007, although scientists aren’t quite sure why. Some of it appears to be oozing out of the ground, in some cases because global warming is breaking down icy sheaths that had helped keep it in place, but the livestock and fossil fuel industries are also playing major roles.

See also: America’s natural gas system is super-leaky, and that’s bad news for the climate, By John Upton in GRIST: http://grist.org/news/americas-natural-gas-system-is-super-leaky-and-thats-bad-news-for-the-climate/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_term=Daily%2520Feb%252014&utm_campaign=daily

The scientists did not just rely on studies of methane levels in the atmosphere. They also looked at studies that attempted to quantify the amount of natural gas that escapes from fracked wells, pipelines, and other infrastructure.

Still, when it comes to power plants, the authors say it is better to switch over to natural gas than to continue burning coal. That’s partly because coal burning releases a lot of carbon dioxide, and partly because coal mining releases a lot of methane. “Natural gas is very likely to provide climate benefits compared to coal for electricity generation,”

Whilst the study concluded that fracking “is unlikely to be a dominant contributor to total emissions,” it (re-) reported elevated methane levels near some gas and oil fields.

Ultimately, this synthesis of 20 years’ worth of research, by a group of scientists from 14 leading USA Universities and Research institutions, highlights the need for more research. One priority area needs to be the identification of a sites and industries responsible for a large proportion of methane leaks. Identifying these sites and ‘leakers’ will take investment by a combination of governmental and independent research units, and development to reduce the cost of methane detection and leak source identification. Some approaches exist, but radical improvement is needed in their speed and cost for widespread adoption. The study notes this as a priority.

Baseline studies are now needed across the Karoo as a matter of urgency.

In South Africa, a new research group at NMMU is now focussing on the natural Methane leakage across the Karoo prior to onset of exploration and fracking for Methane.

 see pdf archive for more

 

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