Monday, June 30, 2014

Natural gas might be as bad for the climate as coal, researchers find

Natural gas might not be as good for the climate as previously thought, according to a study by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Earth Systems Research Laboratory published in the journals Environmental Science and Technology and ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering.

Researchers found that natural gas fields throughout the world may be leaking enough methane "to make the fuel as polluting as coal for the climate over the next few decades," Gayathri Vaidyanathan reports for ClimateWire. And some oil and gas fields in the U.S. "are emitting more methane than the industry does, on average, in the rest of the world, the research suggests."

"From wellheads, pipes, valves, compressors and various other equipment, gas wells leak raw methane, a greenhouse gas that is 86 times as potent as carbon dioxide over a 20-year time scale, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change," Vaidyanathan writes. "While CO2 persists in the atmosphere for centuries, wreaking climate havoc slowly, methane works more rapidly for a short while before decaying into less virulent gases. For the climate equation, both CO2 and methane emissions matter, scientists say.

"Scientists who have measured methane emissions over gas fields in the Uinta Basin of Utah say emissions are close to 9 percent," Vaidyanathan writes. The Environmental Protection Agency "suggests a leakage rate of 1.2 percent—equal to the annual emissions of 112 million cars." (Read more)

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