By John Schwartz, The New York Times, April 21, 2015
|World methane emissions by source|
Reducing methane leaks from oil and gas operations around the world could provide a relatively inexpensive way to fight climate change, according to a new report commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund.
The amount of methane that escaped worldwide in 2012 was roughly 3.6 billion cubic feet and would have been worth $30 billion on the market, said Kate Larsen, a director of the Rhodium Group, which produced the study. A country that produced that amount of gas would rank seventh in the world, coming in just after Russia, she said.
Methane, the major component of natural gas, is also a powerful greenhouse gas. It is valued as an alternative to coal because it produces half of the carbon dioxide that coal does when burned in power plants. But released directly into the atmosphere, methane has short-term climate effects that are much greater than those of carbon dioxide.
“Methane is both a serious climate challenge and also, in our view, a major untapped opportunity to start reversing the tide of global greenhouse gas emissions,” said Mark Brownstein, chief counsel for the environmental fund’s United States climate and energy program.
Previous research sponsored by the group suggests that leaks from natural gas facilities could be reduced by 40 percent at a cost of 1 cent per 1,000 cubic feet.
In the United States, the Obama administration has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to as much as 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, and to cut methane emissions from oil and gas production by up to 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025.
Without action to combat leaks, Ms. Larsen said, methane emissions will grow 23 percent by 2030. According to the report, if the 30 nations that emit the most methane from oil and gas reduced emissions 50 percent by 2030, the impact on climate change of curtailing that waste would be as great as stopping the combined carbon dioxide emissions of India and the entire European Union in 2012.
The new study is one of 16 sponsored by the Environmental Defense Fund to gain a better understanding of the methane problem. This study, which was not published in a scientific journal, was financed entirely by the Environmental Defense Fund, said Drew Nelson, senior manager in the group’s natural gas program.
A spokesman for the petroleum industry said its companies were already at work to reduce leaks. Carlton Carroll, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, said that industry and government had worked together to reduce methane emissions.
“Even as U.S. oil and natural gas production has risen dramatically, methane emissions have fallen thanks to industry leadership and investment in new technologies,” he said.
“Emissions are low and will continue to fall as operators innovate and find new ways to capture and deliver more methane to consumers, and existing E.P.A. and state regulations are working,” he continued, referring to the Environmental Protection Agency.