- The research says the EPA undercounts the emissions in an annual report.
- It specifically looks at oil and natural gas production.
- Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Methane emissions from the production of oil and natural gas are up to 90% higher than annual EPA estimates, according to a new study.
The research, published Monday in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, used a new method that employed satellite data to trace and map total emissions to their source on the ground, according to a news release.
The data indicated that methane emissions from oil production are 90% higher than the Environmental Production Agency estimates in its most recent report on U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks, and emissions from natural gas production are 50% higher.
Methane can be leaked from oil and gas wells and pipelines.
Methane emissions come from other sources besides the energy sector, including cattle and sheep ranching and landfills. But interest in emissions from natural gas in particular has increased in recent years as it’s emerged as an alternative to carbon-producing fuels.
While carbon dioxide is the primary driver behind global warming, methane has a higher potential to heat the atmosphere, according to the EPA.
Data from NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory shows a steady rise nearly every year in the amount of methane in the atmosphere since the 1980s, and separate research published last year showed that methane emissions had reached an all-time high.
Scientists fear the rise in methane emissions could sideline efforts to limit global temperatures as outlined in the Paris Agreement.
Joannes Maasakkers, who worked on the new research as a graduate student at Harvard University’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, said the study is the first to examine the country-wide numbers in the EPA’s annual report.
The EPA counts emissions by looking at processes and equipment in general, according to the news release. One formula, for example takes the number of gas pumps across the U.S. and multiplies it by an estimate of how much methane a gas pump emits.
“That method makes it really hard to get estimates for individual facilities because it is hard to take into account every possible source of emission,” Maasakkers said. “We know that a relatively small number of facilities make up most of the emissions and so there are clearly facilities that are producing more emissions than we would expect from these overall estimates.”
The researchers had previously worked with the EPA to map regional emissions from different sources. They built on that study to simulate how methane moves through the atmosphere in order to track the amount of emissions.
Daniel Jacob, another author of the study and a professor at Harvard, said the team will use their new method for further research.
“We plan to continue to monitor U.S. emissions of methane using new high-resolution satellite observations, and to work with the EPA to improve emission inventories,” Jacob said.
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