New study takes nuanced look at methane leaks

In some gas fields, leak rates appear close to official estimates

Fracked nation.

Researchers try to quantify methane leakage in natural gas fields.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Boulder-based researchers have used thousands of detailed measurements taken during overflights to take a nuanced look at methane leaks from natural gas fields.

The findings show methane leaking at the rate of tens of thousands of pounds per hour in three major natural gas basins that span Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Pennsylvania. But the overall leak rate from those basins is only about one percent of gas production there — lower than leak rates measured in other gas fields, and in line with federal estimates. Continue reading

Study: 15 billion cubic feet of natural gas per year escaping from Boston’s leaky pipeline network

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This map shows the geographical distribution of natural gas consumption during the year from September 2012 to August 2013 for the four states included in the study region. The research team used this data, along with air monitoring and analysis, to assess the fraction of delivered natural gas that was emitted to the atmosphere. Image courtesy of Kathryn McKain, Harvard SEAS.

Researchers say energy companies have little incentive to prevent leaks

Staff Report

FRISCO — A team of engineers and scientists say that up to 15  billion cubic feet of natural gas, worth some $90 million, may be escaping from leaky pipes in the Boston area.

The researchers, led by atmospheric scientists at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences calculated the figure by analyzing a year’s worth of continuous methane measurements, using a high-resolution regional atmospheric transport model to calculate the amount of emissions.

Tackling the problem will require innovative policy because  low prices and the way in which natural gas suppliers are regulated mean that gas companies have little economic incentive to make the necessary investments to reduce incidental losses from leakage, according to the Harvard researchers. Continue reading

Study: Natural gas boom won’t slow global warming

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Increase in global gas production likely to displace renewable low carbon energy

Staff Report

FRISCO — Increasing production of natural gas won’t save the world from global warming, researchers said this week.

In the long run, a global abundance of inexpensive natural gas is likely to displace not just coal, but  also lower-emitting nuclear and renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar. Inexpensive natural gas would also accelerate economic growth and expand overall energy use, the study found.

“The effect is that abundant natural gas alone will do little to slow climate change,” said lead author Haewon McJeon, an economist at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “Global deployment of advanced natural gas production technology could double or triple the global natural gas production by 2050, but greenhouse gas emissions will continue to grow in the absence of climate policies that promote lower carbon energy sources.” Continue reading

Study: Unchecked methane emissions from fossil fuel exploitation may push Earth past the climate tipping point

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FrackNation … but for how long?

Is natural gas really the lesser of two evils?

Staff Report

FRISCO — As frackers desperately try to pump every last bit of gas from the ground before the global warming clock runs out, scientists warn that methane emissions could push Earth over a climate tipping point in just a few years.

“We have to control methane immediately, and natural gas is the largest methane pollution source in the United States,” said Robert Howarth, greenhouse gas expert and ecology and environmental biology professor at Cornell University. “If we hit a climate-system tipping point because of methane, our carbon dioxide problem is immaterial. We have to get a handle on methane, or increasingly risk global catastrophe.” Continue reading

Study: Methane emission estimates much too low

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America’s natural gas infrastructure has leakage issues.

Methane emissions from natural gas industry facilities and other sources may be up to 75 percent higher than EPA estimates

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A comprehensive air quality analysis shows that most estimates of methane emissions from various sources — including the natural gas industry — are much too low, a result that didn’t surprise the scientists who led the study. Total U.S. methane emissions are probably about 25 to 75 percent higher than EPA estimates.

“People who go out and and actually measure methane pretty consistently find more emissions than we expect,” said the lead author of the new analysis, Adam Brandt, an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University. “Atmospheric tests covering the entire country indicate emissions around 50 percent more than EPA estimates,” said Brandt. “And that’s a moderate estimate.” Continue reading

Power plant greenhouse gas emissions drop 23 percent

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Switching to natural gas power generation has helped slow the pace of greenhouse gas emissions. Photo via the Wikimedia Commons.

Coal losing ground, but is still the biggest source of fuel for generating electricity

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The gradual shift to natural gas power plants may not be a panacea for reducing concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases, but the switch has helped slow the pace emissions.

“Since more and more of our electricity is coming from these cleaner power plants, emissions from the power sector are lower by 20, 30 even 40 percent for some gases since 1997,” said NOAA atmospheric scientists Joost de Gouw. Continue reading

EPA’s proposed limits on power plant emissions would accelerate shift from coal to natural gas

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Coal-fired power plants currently produce about 46 percent of the country’s electricity. Photo via Wikipedia and the Creative Commons.

Study compares economic sensitivity of gas and coal-fired power plants

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Proposed new limits on power plant emissions could spur a big shift away from coal and toward natural gas. The new rules on sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, nitrogen oxide and mercury may make nearly two-thirds of the nation’s coal-fired power plants as expensive to run as plants powered by natural gas, according to a new Duke University study.

“Because of the cost of upgrading plants to meet the EPA‘s pending emissions regulations and its stricter enforcement of current regulations, natural gas plants would become cost-competitive with a majority of coal plants — even if natural gas becomes more than four times as expensive as coal,” said Lincoln F. Pratson, a professor of earth and ocean sciences at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. Continue reading

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