Methane leakage from existing natural gas infrastructure exceeds previous estimates, and will not be impacted by new White House methane regulations
WASHINGTON, D.C.—According to a new study released this week as part of an ongoing research effort by the Environmental Defense Fund, natural gas “gathering” facilities for piping and processing natural gas in the United States leak about 100 billion cubic feet of gas per year — a figure that is eight times larger than the EPA’s estimates and could make gathering facilities the biggest source of methane emissions in the oil and gas supply chain.
The gathering process consolidates gas from multiple wells in a single area and feeds it into processing plants or main transmission pipelines. When these emissions are taken into account, EPA’s estimates of the total emissions from the natural gas supply chain would increase by 25 percent, according to the Environmental Defense Fund. EPA’s current inventories conservatively estimate that natural gas infrastructure leaks methane at a rate of 1.3%. When overlaid with this latest report, that leakage rate would increase to about 1.6% — a level that makes US liquefied natural gas (LNG) worse than coal when exported to Asia when the climate impacts of methane leakage are measured over a 20-year timeframe.
Last year, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) released an environmental report analyzing the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions resulting from liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports. Over a 20-year timeframe, DOE found that the lifecycle leakage rate would need to stay below 1.4% when exporting U.S. LNG to Asia.
Dominion Resources intends to invest $3.8 billion to export up to 5.75 million metric tons of LNG to India and Japan each year out of Cove Point, Maryland. These latest findings provide more evidence that domestic methane leakage rates are high enough to negate any climate benefits of exported natural gas when compared to regional coal-fired electricity in those countries. Furthermore, as the Chesapeake Climate Action Network explained in a white paper on the subject, if domestic leakage rates are higher than EPA estimates, or if the natural gas pipeline infrastructure in India or Japan leak methane at higher rates than U.S. pipelines, then the immediate climate impacts of LNG from Cove Point would be much worse for the climate than coal if exports began today.
This new EDF study comes on the heels of the Obama Administration’s first-ever proposed methane pollution standards for new and modified oil and gas facilities, a landmark announcement on August 18th that will blunt the projected growth of methane and smog-forming pollution produced by the industry. While the standards proposed by the administration would cover new and modified facilities, existing oil and gas equipment would be exempt from the rule, thereby allowing operators to continue to pollute our air with methane and toxic chemicals.
Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, had the following statement:
“This new study on gas industry pollution emissions proves yet again that the Cove Point gas export facility in Maryland will be worse for global warming than burning coal. We now know the lifecycle methane and carbon emissions from U.S. gas exports will exceed total greenhouse gas emissions of coal burned overseas. As a result, the U.S. must immediately target both new and existing natural gas infrastructure in order to reduce climate-disrupting emissions from natural gas within a timeframe consistent with stabilizing global greenhouse gas emissions. It is shocking, meanwhile, that the natural gas industry continues to claim that federal emissions standards are unnecessary.
“We applaud the Obama administration for announcing steps this week for reinforcing its commitment to reducing climate change pollution by introducing the first-ever proposed methane pollution standards for new and modified oil and gas facilities. But this latest study from the Environmental Defense Fund on methane emissions from existing natural gas infrastructure makes it abundantly clear that much more needs to be done. Even with these new federal standards in place, existing oil and gas equipment will still be responsible for an estimated 90 percent of methane emissions in 2018.
“Federal standards targeting new oil and gas infrastructure are an important first step towards a comprehensive methane strategy. We hope that the President will use his remaining time in office to introduce equally stringent standards on existing oil and gas infrastructure so that the U.S. can finally have a national framework in place to limit methane emissions from all natural gas operations.”
The Chesapeake Climate Action Network is the biggest and oldest non-profit organization dedicated to fighting climate change in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. We’re building a powerful movement to shift our region away from climate-harming fossil fuels and to clean energy solutions.