A little-noted portion of the chain of pipelines and equipment that delivers natural gas is responsible for a surprising amount of methane emissions, according to a study reported by The New York Times.
“Natural-gas gathering facilities, which collect from multiple wells, lose about 100 billion cubic feet of natural gas a year, about eight times as much as estimates used by the Environmental Protection Agency, according to the study, which appeared in the journal Environmental Science & Technology,” The Times wrote.
“The newly discovered leaks, if counted in the E.P.A. inventory, would increase its entire system wide estimate by about 25 percent, said the Environmental Defense Fund, which sponsored the research as part of methane emissions studies it organized,” the article continues.
“The gathering and processing sector, a piece of the supply chain that most people don’t even know exists, may be the biggest single fraction of emissions coming from natural gas,” Mark Brownstein told The Times. He leads the Environmental Defense Fund’s work on methane emissions.
Methane is the main component of natural gas and has a more potent short-term effect on climate change than carbon dioxide, the article states. “The effect that the newfound emissions would have on climate change over 20 years, the Environmental Defense Fund said, would be similar to that of 37 coal-fired power plants,” The Times wrote.
Professor Anthony J. Marchese, a professor of mechanical engineering at Colorado State and the lead author of the new study, told The Times that the amount of gas that escapes from gathering facilities each year could heat 3.2 million homes. Wasting a potentially valuable resource, not to mention harming the environment, he said, mystified him. “Why would you ever vent it when you can use it to generate electricity?” he added.
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