Untrustworthy claim: New study finds US oil & gas methane emissions 60 percent higher than estimated

High emissions findings undercut the case that gas offers substantial climate advantage over coal

The U.S. oil and gas industry emits 13 million metric tons of the potent greenhouse gas methane from its operations each year, 60 percent more than estimated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to a new study published today in the journal Science.

Significantly, researchers found most of the emissions came from leaks, equipment malfunctions and other “abnormal” operating conditions. The climate impact of these leaks in 2015 was roughly the same as the climate impact of carbon dioxide emissions from all all U.S. coal-fired power plants operating in 2015, they found.

“This study provides the best estimate to date on the climate impact of oil and gas activity in the United States,” said co-author Jeff Peischl, a CIRES scientist working in NOAA’s Chemical Sciences Division in Boulder, Colorado. “It’s the culmination of 10 years of studies by scientists across the country, many of which were spearheaded by CIRES and NOAA.”

The new paper assessed measurements made at more than 400 well pads in six oil and gas production basins and scores of midstream facilities; measurements from valves, tanks and other equipment; and aerial surveys covering large swaths of the U.S. oil and gas infrastructure. The research was organized by the Environmental Defense Fund and drew on science experts from 16 research institutions including the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Texas Austin.

Methane, the main ingredient of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas that has more than 80 times the warming impact of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after its release. The new study estimates total US emissions at 2.3 percent of production, enough to erode the potential climate benefit of switching from coal to natural gas over the past 20 years. The methane lost to leakage is worth an estimated $2 billion, according to the Environmental Defense Fund, enough to heat 10 million homes in the U.S.

The assessment does suggest that repairing leaks and addressing other conditions that result in the accidental release of salrable methane could be effective. “Natural gas emissions can, in fact, be significantly reduced if properly monitored,” said co-author Colm Sweeney, an atmospheric scientist in NOAA’s Global Monitoring Division. “Identifying the biggest leakers could substantially reduce emissions that we have measured.”

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Read more from the Environmental Defense Fund at https://www.edf.org/climate/methane-studies.

Anything from the EDF is untrustworthy, in my opinion.

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102 thoughts on “Untrustworthy claim: New study finds US oil & gas methane emissions 60 percent higher than estimated

  1. Methane, the main ingredient of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas that has more than 80 times the warming impact of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after its release

    When is this utter BS going to be challenged? The “Global Warming Potential” is a made up statistic designed to mislead.

      • …And is almost a whopping 0.0002% of the atmosphere as the planet rebounds from frozen upper latitudes. “So big hairy donut!”, my kid used to say.

    • 20 years!?! I thought I remembered reading somewhere that methane has a half-life in the atmosphere of about 3 days, breaking down into H2O and CO2 under the influence of UV.

      • My memory says methane’s half-life is 7 years, and that it supposedly starts out at 26x CO2. So over 20 years it’s going to be about 10x not 80x. And that’s per unit, and the amounts quoted are puny. It’s a non-issue however you look at it.

  2. “This study provides the best estimate to date”…

    I’m starting to not believe science at all

    • Makes me think of what grade would you get in your college Quantitative Chemistry 201 lab experiment if your lab report given to the professor was “My analysis provides the best estimate is that this compound is approximately …”

    • Do I believe the science flow chart:

      Is the science applied science, based on repeatable empirical observation, or suggest a way to test the conclusion. -> Yes
      Is the science purely theoretical, based on hypothetical situations, call modeled results or statistical analysis “evidence”, or contain anywhere in the conclusions and discussion section that “actions need to be taken”. -> No

  3. Methane is only ‘potent’ because it’s at such a low concentration. Relative to its current effect, which is only a tiny fraction of the effect from H2O and CO2, it does increase faster on an absolute basis, but a tiny number multiplied by a few factors of 2 is still a tiny number. CH4 is just a fall back position for the alarmists as they come to the realization that their CO2 fixation is just plain stupid.

    • Lots of ways to word this none of them all that simple which is why the scam works:

      Methane is going up less than 10 ppb per year. If CO2 were to increase by 10 ppb it would go from 400 ppm to 400.01 ppm., an increase of 0.005%. And an increase of 0.005% in atmospheric CO2 will raise temperatures essentially zero, and 80 times zero is zero.

      And that’s the reason our friends on the left NEVER tell us how much methane Business As Usual (BAU) will run up global temperatures by the 2100.

    • Jamal,

      If you detrend the rise of CH4, you simply remove the result of any human influence and you are only comparing yearly noise with yearly noise. That doesn’t show you anything about cause and effect of the CH4 increase in the atmosphere.

      Even without knowing the exact sources, I think that there is a huge possibility that human use of coal (methane from mining), oil and gas is to blame:

      http://www.ferdinand-engelbeen.be/klimaat/klim_img/law_dome_ch4.jpg

      Just look for another source than humans for the non temperature dependent rise of methane over the past 1,000 years or 800,000 years…

      • Well, how about the vast areas of ocean floor where methane continually bubbles up today as it has done for millions of years or the barely frozen methane that exists elsewhere on the ocean floor and melts partially on an annual basis. Then there are the volcanic sources of the gas that have existed for that sort of time too. Also when lava buries plants and shrubs, methane gas is produced.

        • Patrick,

          Natural methane sources are at work for many millions of years. That is as well as in much colder periods as in slightly warmer periods.

          Over the past 800,000 years that is measured in ice cores air. What was seen is that CH4 closely follows temperature. The maximum CH4 level some 125,000 years ago was over 700 ppbv during the Eemian, with global temperatures some 2 degrees higher than today.

          http://www.ferdinand-engelbeen.be/klimaat/klim_img/eemian.gif

          In the current Holocene, levels were just below 700 ppbv during 10,000 years until a few hundred years ago, then CH4 starts to increase up to near 2000 ppbv today.

          That is not from natural causes…

        • I recall that wetlands and peat bogs were the biggest contributor of methane and CO2.
          Anthony do you recall if that study was contained in a WUWT post?

    • “[Methane] values reported as zero or below the detection limit … were treated as censored data points (see below). Such censoring applied to 78 (40%) and 18 (35%) measurements in the Barnett and Fayetteville, respectively.”

      What exactly is a censored data point? If 40% had no reading then why werent they included in the overall stats?

    • It appears that Bishop Hill did a very quick scan and pulled out the 40% number without actually checking it. If you look at Table S1 (in the supplemental materials) you will see that they took data from 435 “production sites” and they “censored” (i.e. excluded) 86 of them. This is 19.8% of the production sites they used. Not 40%. Sorry.

      Also, they got data from 14 other categories of gas leakage sources, so the percentage of data sources excluded because they were zero is something less then 19.8%, and I can’t quantify it better than that.

      The paper is densely populated by statistical analysis that’s so far beyond my capacity to understand that I can’t make further comment. That said, if you look at figure S-5, you will see that they used a non-linear fit to log-log scatter plots. Perhaps adding some “zero” points might have skewed their results more than it would have affected a simple arithmetic mean. Who knows? This is getting into McIntyre territory.

      Message to skeptics: we occupy the scientific high ground on all this cagwaggery. So let’s try and act like scientists and not just latch on to the first point that catches our eye and say “look at that – fake data!!!” Please.

      BTW I think that all this methane thing is just an attempt to distract from the failure of the “CO2 is causing runaway global warming” scare. 80 times more potent!!! OMG, we’re all going to die!!!

  4. You state “Anything from the EDF is untrustworthy, in my opinion.” You were not clear in how the EDF was not trustworthy in the publication of this report.

    • The authors “censored” the wells with zero methane readings. They should have been in the study population. If the censored wells are added back in and averaged, the emissions then are 96% of the EPA estimate.

      • 17 up votes! My, my!

        These wells were “censored,” yes. And do you know what that means? Can you explain what it says about the subject? After all, they did say, “see below.” Does it say “below” that those data points were eliminated from the total?

      • How about peer-reviewed articles in Science? That is what the evaluation of the science should be based on, not an EDF press release.

    • It is revealing that as of now, Rick’s comment has 9 down votes. He makes a perfectly sound point, though. Even the title of the post is “Untrustworthy claim…” The message is, “You don’t have to know anything about the quality of the research to say it’s wrong.”

    • “CAGW is for people who can’t do math.” One might as well say that climate change “skepticism” is for people who have no desire for truth. The statements are equally fatuous.

      • No . Math is objectively testable . And the only way you can believe in CAGW is to either be unable to do , or willfully deny the math .

        The spectral GHG paradigm survives only because both sides suck at essential math and physics .

  5. Methane, the main ingredient of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas that has more than 80 times the warming impact of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after its release.

    This claim would appear rather exaggerated even by warmist standards:

    First, the claim use to be that it was 20 times (not 80 times) as powerful as CO2.

    Second, methane breaks down to CO2 and water, and this process is thought to happen in around 10 years, not 20 years.

    • Since temperature affects the rate at which chemical reactions take place. If the Earth actually did start warming up, the speed at which methane breaks down to CO2 and H2O would also speed up.

    • I can’t believe that the half life of methane in the atmosphere is 10 years. A sunny day, a lightning storm, a forest fire will all oxidize methane.

    • Yeah, used to be 20 times, but they bumped it up by saying by mass instead of volume and since CO2 is 2.75 times the mass of methane that bumps it up to 55 times more powerful so why is it 80 times more powerful? That’s because they use the concentration of CO2 as the standard which of course has increased over the years since since you heard that.

      That’s right, they use a standard that constantly changes ??? And they are getting away with it.

      • its called “Crook`s Variable Constant” back in my school days when our numbers never worked out but we got the right answer or it just never added up we accused them of using that, we could always do fantastic things with a variabe constant like that irrespective of the subject.

        • We had it as a programming command for writing algorithms: “Get Right Answer Regardless”

  6. WOW!
    If this is true then shouldn’t Hansen have had a scenario “D” or even up to “F”?
    Yet observations are ….

    • Oh wait.
      I forgot that Hansen’s scenarios forgot about methane (and water vapor and volcanoes and…etc.)
      He didn’t include all the other increasing Greenhouse Gases yet observations are still lower than his worst case for just Man’s CO2.

  7. Excellent news then. As observations show that equilibrium climate sensitivity to CO2 is already much lower than typical midrange IPPC estimates, and this new study now shows much of the effect of CO2 may have been due, instead to escaping methane, I guess CO2 is pretty much off the hook. It really can’t be doing much to our weather after all. And since the largest sources of methane release are natural we can pretty much move on now to the next exciting Armageddon theory.

  8. Methane is 0.00017% of the atmospheric gases. What utter and complete BS! The people that write this propaganda are complete idiots.

  9. “we flew over 8000 oil and gas wells” and i wonder how much C02 they made doing that.

  10. “The climate impact of these leaks in 2015 was roughly the same as the climate impact of carbon dioxide emissions from all all U.S. coal-fired power plants operating in 2015, they found.”

    Twice nothing is still nothing.

    The agenda of the people reporting this sort of “research” is so transparent. Their intention is find something wrong with the industry, pure and simple. They think they have dealt the coal industry a mortal blow, so it is time to turn their attention to the other fossil fuel industries.

  11. SO…CO2 emissions in US have dropped, but methane “leaks” are more warming than all of coal. So, US has done even better than we thought compared to rest of world. AND/OR, we don’t know enough about causality of warming. Perhaps CO2 and methane NOT big worries.

  12. Anthony, please critique this study on its merits not its source. I am a skeptic like you but I do not like ad hominem attacks on either side.

    • When a “source” continually spits out garbage science, it needs to be pee’d on continually !! IMHO…

    • Methane (natural gas) is the cleanest hydrocarbon fuel possible.
      Ask yourself why every single form of cheap reliable energy is villainized.

  13. the negative effect on the credibility of scientists by schlok such as this makes any ‘greenhouse effect’ of methane seem trivial

  14. I guess it hasn’t occurred to any of these “researchers” that their very own methane production emissions not only add to what is leaked, but also probably throw off the readings by a notable percentage.

  15. 13 Million MT/yr converts to 4,169 MM SCF/month. The US produces 2,466,512 MM SCF of NG per month, so this equates to 0.169% leakage rate, which is well below the 7% leakage rate used by DOE in Life Cycle Assessment calculations for NG production, so the GHG benefits for conversion to NG just got 4000 times better, not worse.

    But on matter what, I believe none of these calculations as they have to start from actual methane measurements in the atmosphere and work back down to where they came from. Methane seems to be a minor issue in the atmosphere no matter what the Greens think.

  16. WebMD send me emails – several per day in fact. Reading them is like filtering diamonds out of mountains of rock.
    (I have patience and in an increasingly paranoid world is often rewarded these days. You guessed – watt wott with wotts nott wott is a gold mine for diamonds)
    ;-D

    One of the WebMD emails ran a quiz and one question (I got wrong hence scored a diamond) was:
    Q: How many times per day should you break wind?
    The answer was= Anywhere between 15 and 30 times.
    More or less effectively means ‘You and Your Digestion Are Dysfunctional’ Get help.

    Hence the diamond, to me it was simultaneously quite gross and hysterically funny
    (Also really very worrying considering the foul anaerobic process that causes farting)

    Anyway – how much methane would there be………

    • No, not alien life. The original shot is here: http://redplanet.asu.edu/?p=29516

      Martian dunes move around constantly, sometimes quickly running over other dunes. The original dunes will look reddish tan (iron oxide) while the newer stuff may be able to catch what little moisture there is in the Martian atmosphere, which freezes and under the right conditions the frost will look blue.

      That is an enhanced color photo of one dune overrunning others. Not alien life. Sorry!!

      Maybe on Ceres. There’s a satellite nearing its landing point on Ceres. They finally figured out that the bright shiny spots on Ceres were Epsom salts. If it’s cold enough to keep ponds of Epsom salts solid, that’s cotton-pickin’ cold!

  17. Where uncertainty is present, bias rules.

    Uncertainty, thus, can be manipulated towards a particular bias to appear as truth.

    EDF = Ego Driven Fanatics = Extremely Deficient Functioning = Environmental Demon Finders = Easily Detectable Frauds

    Years ago, I used to contribute. Scary.

  18. Surely the aim of this is to try and obscure the fact that the USA has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions so that the vilification of fossil fuel users and President Trump can proceed apace. Meanwhile the green EU zombies can proceed with their own fantasy world in which at incredible cost and harm to their people they fail to reduce any emissions.

  19. Set the case there’s never evermore precipitation on planet earth then there could be reasoning about

    “High emissions findings undercut the case that gas offers substantial climate advantage over coal.”

  20. Hmm,

    This efficiency of energy production, as associated with hydraulic fracturing and natural gas is significantly skewing the curve.

    If we force the natural gas portion of the industry to spend more money on their initial infrastructure, their replacement, and their monitoring, we can increase the cost of energy production; we can then get back to the fact that the windmills and solar panels are getting cheaper at a relatively increasing rate.

    Can we find some useful idiot in the oil industry and convert her, to take the lead on this?

  21. I thought I’d randomly select one of these studies to look at their methods and ascertain their quality. I chose the study estimating methane losses from Weld County, CO., since it is closest to home and I’m most familiar with the geology there.

    First off, they took all of their measurements during the month of May when microbial activity is reawakening and going to work decomposing organic matter in the soil. They didn’t bother to take measurements during the winter for comparison.

    But even worse, they separated oil and gas operations emissions from other sources by subtracting all known man-made sources, i.e. landfills and agriculture, from the total measurements. That’s right, they literally did not account for or even bother addressing natural methane sources such as decomposing vegetation (in the wettest month of the year ffs) or (just wow, I’m still shaking my head) methane seepage from the Niobrara or Pierre Shale Formations that outcrop on the surface throughout the entire county and are literally natural gas source rock and reservoir rocks produced in the region. There is so much natural gas seeping from these rocks that condensate is produced out of windmills along with freshwater, and I have heard anecdotes of farmers producing enough condensate in their livestock water tanks that they can skim it and run a tractor.

    I sort of expected to find a bias in the study, but I didn’t expect to find blatant ignorance of this magnitude.

  22. Here’s a link to the actual paper. It appears to be model based.
    ————–

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

    Methane emissions from the U.S. oil and natural gas supply chain were estimated 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 Tg/y, equivalent to 2.3% of gross U.S. gas production. This value is ~60% higher than the U.S. EPA 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. Significant emission reductions are feasible through rapid detection of the root causes of high emissions and deployment of less failure-prone systems.

    http://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2018/06/20/science.aar7204.full

  23. “Natural gas emissions can, in fact, be significantly reduced if properly monitored.”

    Well, if all that needs to be done to solve this crisis is to keep an occasional eye on the emissions, what’s the problem? (sarc)

  24. I have designed gas plants, compressor stations and pipelines for 40 years. Many performance tests including inlet/outlet mass balances. Their stated leakage assumption of 2.3% is high approximately by a factor of 10, in fact you can not normally determine any leakage exists within normal 0.25% meter error. I think they meant to say “…the worst case estimate to date…” because it sure isn’t the best estimate to date.

  25. Methane’s pretty groovy right now, when you see a flat emissions graph from 1990-2015 (GHGI April 2017 p.4) with cow farts in purple, it’s a sign there’s been no radical escalation. There may be competing economic factors like, I was eating steak in 1990 but can now only afford hot dogs.

    On p.9 you can see the best news of all: starting around 2011 an amazing drop in “associated gas venting” which means they’re capturing and storing ‘almost all’ natural gas in oil production. My parents drove Route 66 in the ’60s and they said burning oil well flares lit the sky at night. What percentage of our total gas reserve was wasted during those decades, I wonder. On p.14 there is a ugly surprise, a red peak for “well emissions” from one event: the 2015 Aliso Canyon gas leak.

    Remember the concerns of this leak being set alight? They were, like,
    donteventhinkaboutit.

  26. So the EDF believes that people in the gas business throw away over 2% of their production? They are clearly insane. Government employees may consider this to be plausible, but this is not how industry works.

  27. The global methane data is based on a measurement uncertainty of 700 to 900 ppt. Although this is analytically feasible for a single sample point connected with a well purged sampling system to the analytical instrument, I have little confidence that this uncertainty can be maintained over the full extent of their global sampling network.

  28. Your cited reference in the EDF article states that “Even a small amount of methane emitted to the atmosphere can undo some or all of the benefits we think we’re getting when we substitute natural gas for coal or oil.” If so, how do you then explain the well-known observation that since the beginning of the natural gas revolution air pollution in the US has been steadily decreasing?

  29. The likelihood of a useful result from studies of present-day methane emissions is slim and none. Credible time-series of the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere for meaningful time periods are non-existent. I suspect that most of the hypothetical problems related to the presence of greenhouse gas emissions would disappear if the underlying premise that now is the time to convert to renewable energy sources were eliminated from consideration. Solar power is only in the energy mix because of government subsidies. Without subsidies, solar is non-competitive and will remain non-competitive for decades or more.

    Caltech’s Nate Lewis, Argyros Professor of Chemistry, whose work is at the leading edge of research on solar power, has said publicly that “I need to dissuade you up front from one important notion, that some low-cost process is magically going to take us away from fossil energy within the next 20 or 30 years. That’s simply false.” Lewis estimates that population and GDP growth could triple energy demand by 2050. He has concluded that “solar is … far and away the most expensive way we have of making electricity today, with costs ranging from 25 to 50 cents per kilowatt-hour for photovoltaic systems, that is to say solar panels. Solar thermal systems, … run 10 to 15 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is still too expensive. Nobody is going to pay that much for a substitution product, when they can get the original one for four cents a kilowatt-hour.”

    The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) recently predicted a century of non-warming in which CO2 does not play a significant role. The implications from the CERN are that the models used by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to estimate future temperatures are too high and that the models should be redone. There is no urgency to convert prematurely to renewable energy sources and end up with a grid with unreliable energy sources.

    Expectations of long-term climate studies should be defined before embarking on lifetime projects running down rabbit holes and producing nothing of value. A practical goal is to successfully predict global mean temperatures within a range of values narrow enough to realistically guide public environmental policy decisions. Until then, “What if” studies can be deferred for a few decades until the boundary conditions are known, that is, the probability weighted estimates, not hot button “high” estimates or “low” estimates that are, by themselves, useless.

  30. “Anything from the EDF is untrustworthy, in my opinion.”

    2.3 percent is in the ballpark.

    • No, it isn’t Mosh. I have been part of many performance tests of gas plants with millions of dollars of process guarantees on the line, on site labs, the works. 2.3% of production does NOT disappear anywhere. 0.25% meter error is what you end up arguing with the client over.

  31. “Methane, the main ingredient of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas that has more than 80 times the warming impact of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after its release.”

    The basic ‘global warming potential’ (GWP) of methane is 11. (IPCC 1992)

    The calculated GWP of methane is increased on the assumption that when methane is broken down in the atmosphere, over a period of some 8.4-8.9 years (McConnell et al, 1971), into carbon dioxide, (etc.), the subsequent residency time of this carbon dioxide is added to arrive at the final estimate of the total GWP of atmospheric methane.

    The original claim by the IPCC was (a combined) GWP of 21, which was subsequently raised to 25.

    The IPCC make this addition because they also claim that carbon dioxide has an atmospheric residency period of ~100 years. (at least – based on the ‘Bern’ Model).

    Studies of the carbon 14/carbon 12 ratio in the atmosphere emitted by nuclear tests, the ‘Bomb Test Curve’, however indicates that the Bern model is inconsistent with virtually all other reported experimental results, and the IPCC has consistently ignored these empirically determined carbon dioxide atmospheric residency times (5 to 14 years).

    There is no detectable delay in this process resulting from contributions of ‘slow oceanic events’, as asserted by the IPCC to explain the difference.

    Claims of a GWP of 80 as used in this Report therefore cannot be realistically substantiated.

    Incidentally, the impact on methane levels arising from emissions from livestock, is also incorrectly calculated using the rules mandated by the UNFCCC.

    For every tonne of methane emitted by livestock, 2.75 tonnes of carbon dioxide has been previously removed from the atmosphere by the plants the livestock ate. This is a normal part of the carbon cycle and there is therefore no net increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide from this source.

  32. So, has Mr Sweeny a plan to stop all the methane leaking from lakes, swamps and volcanoes? Thought not. Gas companies lose money when pipelines and wells leak, so they are quite proactive when it comes to stopping leaks. Funny how capitalism is always the only workable solution to ALL problems espoused by leftists.

  33. “It’s the culmination of 10 years of studies by scientists across the country, many of which were spearheaded by CIRES and NOAA.”

    So CIRES and NOAA had an agenda and directed the “independent” studies. Funded by grant money rounded up by C an N. Collect some data, funnel it into a spreadsheet and push the Get Right Answer Regardless command. Ka Ching.

    Oh wait, they said they flew over something like 6000 wells. But less than 100 were actually studied and 21 were thrown out because including them would not get the right answer. How many studies?? How much money?

  34. “The methane lost to leakage is worth an estimated $2 billion,” This is the only thing from the entire report that provides any useful information. I don’t see a cost estimate of the repairs or redesign(s) that would need to be made, but it appears possible that a one-time leak detection and repair project can save more money than it costs. Is there a table of stuff most likely to leak? And another column for quantity lost? I might have to read the report.

  35. To the extent natural gassers have embraced climate change hokum to gain competitive advantage, they deserve every bit of this. I hope they choke on it.

  36. So we can increase the worlds usable gas production by 2.3 percent by tightening up the system. Some one tell me that is not a financial incentive. We are talking trillions of cubic meters .

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