Researchers who hold joint appointments with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Colorado, and who first sparked concern with a February 2012 study suggesting a methane leakage rate of 4% at a natural gas field near Denver, say that new data from one basin in Utah puts the leakage rate at an alarming 9%. That would be devastating, to say the least, to natural gas' potential to be our biggest available climate stabilization tool.
But not so fast.
Major caveats are in order here. The data suggesting a 9% leakage rate are "preliminary." They come from a "small snapshot" of a much larger picture. They are vastly higher than U.S. EPA and other academic estimates. And the February 2012 report by the same researchers received sharp criticism that essentially validated EPA estimates.
I think it is more than fair to say that the numbers on methane leakage are still substantially in doubt.
What is clear is that we must urgently get the methane leakage numbers right, and we must, with even greater urgency, minimize those rates, whatever they are.