Assessment of methane emissions from the U.S. oil and gas supply chain

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Science  13 Jul 2018:
Vol. 361, Issue 6398, pp. 186-188
DOI: 10.1126/science.aar7204

A leaky endeavor

Considerable amounts of the greenhouse gas methane leak from the U.S. oil and natural gas supply chain. Alvarez et al. reassessed the magnitude of this leakage and found that in 2015, supply chain emissions were ∼60% higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency inventory estimate. They suggest that this discrepancy exists because current inventory methods miss emissions that occur during abnormal operating conditions. These data, and the methodology used to obtain them, could improve and verify international inventories of greenhouse gases and provide a better understanding of mitigation efforts outlined by the Paris Agreement.

Science, this issue p. 186


Methane emissions from the U.S. oil and natural gas supply chain were estimated by using ground-based, facility-scale measurements and validated with aircraft observations in areas accounting for ~30% of U.S. gas production. When scaled up nationally, our facility-based estimate of 2015 supply chain emissions is 13 ± 2 teragrams per year, equivalent to 2.3% of gross U.S. gas production. This value is ~60% higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency inventory estimate, likely because existing inventory methods miss emissions released during abnormal operating conditions. Methane emissions of this magnitude, per unit of natural gas consumed, produce radiative forcing over a 20-year time horizon comparable to the CO2 from natural gas combustion. Substantial emission reductions are feasible through rapid detection of the root causes of high emissions and deployment of less failure-prone systems.

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