Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Oil and Gas Operations Release 60 Percent More Methane than EPA Thought, Study Finds

Energy
Oil and Gas Operations Release 60 Percent More Methane than EPA Thought, Study Finds
First gas from the Oselvar module burns on the flare of the BP Ula oil platform in the North Sea. Varodrig / CC BY-SA 3.0

A study published Thursday found that U.S. oil and natural gas operations release 60 percent more methane than currently estimated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), according to a press release from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at University of Colorado, Boulder.


The study, published in Science, calculated yearly methane emissions from the oil and gas industry totaling 13 million metric tons (approximately 14.3 million U.S. tons), mostly from leaks. In fact, the amount of methane leaked by these operations in 2015 had as much impact on the climate as emissions from coal-fired plants during the same year, undermining the idea that natural gas has a lower carbon footprint than coal.

"This study provides the best estimate to date on the climate impact of oil and gas activity in the United States," co-author and CIRES scientist Jeff Peischl said in the release.

Methane has 80 times the warming impact of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it is released into the atmosphere, and methane emissions estimated by the study were equal to 2.3 percent of natural gas production in the U.S.

However, the study's authors said the problem could be solved if the industry worked to investigate and repair leaks.

"Natural gas emissions can, in fact, be significantly reduced if properly monitored," study co-author and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientist Colm Sweeney said in the release. "Identifying the biggest leakers could substantially reduce emissions that we have measured."

Doing so would even be in the natural gas industry's best interest, since researchers concluded that two billion dollars worth of methane, which could otherwise heat 10 million homes, is lost to leaks.

"This is a solvable problem because you are losing product that you could sell," Steven Hamburg, study co-author and lead scientist of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), which lead the research, told Reuters. "But the entire industry has to take action to stop the problem," he said.

Peischl said the study drew on 10 years of research and previous studies to reach its conclusions. Scientists at 16 research institutions including the EDF, CIRES, NOAA, Harvard and Princeton reviewed measurements from more than 400 well pads in six basins where oil and gas are produced. They also looked at measurements from midstream facilities, valves, tanks and aerial surveys of oil and gas operations.

The study said that the EPA likely underestimates emissions because it first asks industry permission to take measurements, and so workers likely tighten up any leaks before their visit.

Hamburg told Reuters that Trump administration efforts to reverse Obama-era methane rules did not have an impact on the EPA's lower estimations, but might impact its ability to respond to the higher ones.

"The data is saying the problem is worse than we thought, the need for regulation is thus that much greater," Hamburg said.

Yves Adams / Instagram

A rare yellow penguin has been photographed for what is believed to be the first time.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

The Crystal building in London, England is the first building in the world to be awarded an outstanding BREEAM (BRE Environmental Assessment Method) rating and a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) platinum rating. Alphotographic / Getty Images

By Stuart Braun

We spend 90% of our time in the buildings where we live and work, shop and conduct business, in the structures that keep us warm in winter and cool in summer.

But immense energy is required to source and manufacture building materials, to power construction sites, to maintain and renew the built environment. In 2019, building operations and construction activities together accounted for 38% of global energy-related CO2 emissions, the highest level ever recorded.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Houses and wooden debris are shown in flood waters from Hurricane Katrina Sept. 11, 2005 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Jerry Grayson / Helifilms Australia PTY Ltd / Getty Images

By Eric Tate and Christopher Emrich

Disasters stemming from hazards like floods, wildfires, and disease often garner attention because of their extreme conditions and heavy societal impacts. Although the nature of the damage may vary, major disasters are alike in that socially vulnerable populations often experience the worst repercussions. For example, we saw this following Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey, each of which generated widespread physical damage and outsized impacts to low-income and minority survivors.

Read More Show Less
A gray wolf is seen howling outside in winter. Wolfgang Kaehler / Contributor / Getty Images

Wisconsin will end its controversial wolf hunt early after hunters and trappers killed almost 70 percent of the state's quota in the hunt's first 48 hours.

Read More Show Less
Tom Vilsack speaks on December 11, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware after being nominated to be Agriculture Secretary by U.S. President Joe Biden. Jim Watson / AFP / Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday was the lone progressive to vote against Tom Vilsack reprising his role as secretary of agriculture, citing concerns that progressive advocacy groups have been raising since even before President Joe Biden officially nominated the former Obama administration appointee.

Read More Show Less