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Study shows decreasing methane emissions from natural gas systems

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Hydrocarbon Engineering,

A study released by Washington State University finds that extensive infrastructure upgrades, better leak detection and repair, and important regulatory changes at both the state and federal levels have resulted in reduced methane emissions from local natural gas systems. Emissions were found to be 36 - 70% lower than estimates from the early 1990s, the last time direct measurements were made.

While the figures show an overall decrease in methane emissions over two decades, they also reflect continuing issues for gas utilities and regulators. The study shows substantial variation in leak rates by region and type of pipe, indicating particular need for action in some places. Methane is the main component in natural gas. EDF believes the challenge can be seen as an opportunity to reduce emissions of a powerful climate pollutant.

“The study confirms that when regulators and utilities both set themselves to fixing a problem, they can get good results,” said Jonathan Peress, EDF Air Policy Director for Natural Gas. “But utilities are losing as much as US$195 million worth of natural gas each year. Because methane is a particularly potent greenhouse gas, 84 times more potent than CO2 over 20 years, the annual methane emissions are comparable in effect on the climate over a 20 year period to the CO2 from as many as 19 coal fired power plants.”

Marty Durbin, President and CEO of America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA), commented on the study by Washington State University: "This latest study sponsored by EDF shows once again that the natural gas industry has been reducing emissions substantially and that innovation and cooperative efforts have led to much greater reductions at a faster pace than any regulation would. Just as the production sector has cut methane emissions since the shale revolution began in 2005, the distribution sector also has taken steps to upgrade systems and reduce emissions. We hope that the administration will take note of the broad industry reductions as shown in this and previous EDF studies and in the Environmental Protection Agency's own data and will continue with cooperative steps that can lead to further substantial emissions reductions."

Adapted from press release by Rosalie Starling

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