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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

New methane emissions study: it may be much worse than we thought

A new study reported on here by The New York Times' Andy Revkin find that methane emission levels are 1.5-1.7 times higher than estimated by U.S. EPA.

Data on this issue have varied widely, and while more studies are forthcoming, these latest results are very troubling. One reason is that the study looked at atmospheric concentrations of methane in 2007-2008, tracing them to known emissions-producing sites, such as landfills, livestock ranches, and oil and gas facilities.  
That pre-dates a surge in unconventional oil and gas development.

Another reason is that the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report found that methane is 34 times stronger a heat-trapping gas than CO2 over a 100-year time scale - a nearly 40% increase from the IPCC’s previous estimate of 25.

EPA has recognized the need to obtain more accurate data on methane emissions. But the new study raises some urgent questions.  

EPA recently reduced its estimate of methane emissions from natgas production.  Will these latest  results change that estimate? 

EPA's green completion rules go into effect in 2015. That is arguably not nearly soon enough. What can be done in the meantime?

Colorado has just announced aggressive steps to regulate methane emissions. Are they enough - even if copied by other states, which lag far behind?

What is clear is that the true level of methane emissions from all sources and across the natgas value chain must be definitively quantified as soon as possible. A robust and accurate monitoring system must be put into place as soon as possible - perhaps using some innovative methods. And methane emissions from all sources must be driven as close to zero as possible - by any means necessary.