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Methane emissions in U. S. are 75 percent higher than EPA estimates

The emissions from methane leaks in the natural gas delivery system in the United States are between 25 percent and 75 percent higher than the Environmental Protection Agency estimates depending on the area of the country examined according to new study conducted by Adam Brandt, an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University, and colleagues from seven universities and seven national laboratories and government agencies that was published in the Feb. 13, 2014, issue of the journal Science.

Above: This shows EPA Greenhouse Gas Inventory leakage estimates. Below: This shows results from recent experimental studies.
Stanford University School of Earth Sciences

The researchers evaluated over 200 studies that ranged in scope from single plant operations to nationwide studies and found that unintentional leaks of methane from natural gas pipelines produced much higher levels of methane emissions than the EPA has verified. EPA limits for production facilities were established in 1990 and have remained unchanged.

The researchers found 1,600 leaks in a single natural gas production facility. These leaks were due to 50 faulty components that represent less than one tenth of one percent of all the components in the plant that were physically in contact with natural gas.

The high rate of emissions is a source of environmental concern as the United States trends toward the use of natural gas instead of coal or oil.

A more dramatic example of the effect of natural gas leaks was seen in a Dec. 17, 2013, explosion and fire in the Gates City community of Birmingham, Alabama where one person died, eight were injured, and an entire apartment complex destroyed due to a gas leak.