NOAA Study Increases Understanding of Methane Emissions
Posted May 24, 2019
There’s lots to know and understand from a new NOAA study on U.S. methane emissions from 2006-2015:
- Start with the finding that there has been “major overestimation” of industry’s methane emissions trends in some previous studies.
- While U.S. natural gas production has increased 46 percent since 2006, scientists found “no significant increase” in total U.S. methane emissions.
- During this same period, the NOAA study found only a “modest” increase in emissions from natural gas and oil activity. (In the context of surging natural gas production – emissions intensity, or emissions per unit production – industry emissions are even smaller.)
From the NOAA study abstract (thankfully, there’s a plain language version):
Based on long‐term and well‐calibrated measurements, we find that (i) there is no large increase of total methane emissions in the United States in the past decade; (ii) there is a modest increase in oil and gas methane emissions, but this increase is much lower than some previous studies suggest …
A little deeper in the weeds, the NOAA study is based on highly accurate measurements of methane over 10 years at 20 long-term sampling sites around the U.S. Deriving methane trends by measuring levels of ethane, as some other recent studies have done, isn’t accurate, the study said, because ethane-to-methane ratios are increasing. The study was conducted by members of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory/Global Monitoring Division, located in Boulder, Colorado. Xin Lan, of the University of Colorado’s CIRES partnership, the study’s lead author:
“What this means is if you want to track methane, you have to measure methane.”
These are significant findings and clearly show advances in our industry’s ability to capture increasing amounts of methane during a period of record-breaking domestic natural gas production. They point to what we’ve been saying – that industry is highly motivated to capture methane, the main component in natural gas, to bring to customers.
Toward that goal, industry initiatives such as The Environmental Partnership that are focused on reducing methane emissions with shared learning and technologies, have an important role to play in ever-improving industry’s effectiveness in lowering emissions.
All of the above support a larger point: The abundant natural gas and oil production that has lifted the U.S. economy, strengthened our energy and national security and benefited consumers – while playing a major role in reducing carbon dioxide emissions – can and are being accompanied by greater efficiencies and effectiveness in capturing methane.
That’s good news for America.
About The Author
Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Previously, Mark was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor at an assortment of newspapers. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela have two grown children and six grandchildren.
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