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Unintended Emissions of Methane – Dangerous Secret Lurks in Natural Gas Use

There are huge risks from unintended emissions of methane. Read on to find out about the dangerous global warming secret which lurks in our natural gas use, everywhere.

There has been a lot said about the climate change and polluting effects of coal and oil. It’s true that in comparison natural gas has many advantages in terms of it’s clean burning characteristics, and lower carbon dioxide output per unit of heat. But, unfortunately as natural gas use has increased the risk of accidental emissions has increased, there is no room for complacency. It certainly, isn’t a climate-change fighting cure-all to simply use fossil fuel generated natural gas.

We are talking about, leaks in natural gas pipes everywhere which come about from everything from:

  • large distribution gas pipeline bursts,
  • to you at your gas-hob when you are slow to light the flame.

 

Methane leakage in the context of global warming has only recently caught public attention. In addition to greater awareness in business and policy circles, significant efforts are required to identify economically viable leak detection and repair programs.

Currently, the industry standard to detect methane leaks include high-sensitivity but high-cost sensors, or low-cost but low-sensitivity infrared cameras.

There is an immediate need to develop techniques that can be used to cost-effectively detect leaks over large areas (e.g. thousands of squared miles). From a regulatory perspective, EPA has released proposed regulations to limit methane leaks from the oil and gas industry.

Currently, methane leaks occur at all stages of the natural gas infrastructure – from production and processing, transmission to distribution lines in major cities.

While the global warming effects of higher methane concentrations are fairly well understood, there is currently little consensus on the magnitude of emissions from the natural gas infrastructure.

Facing Up to Unintended Natural Gas Emissions

Addressing these unreported emissions is critical to responsibly planning the transition to a clean energy future.

Scientists estimate that if methane leakage from natural gas well sites exceeds 3.2 percent, gas becomes a worse contributor to global warming than coal.

Given that studies are now estimating leakage rates of 2.3 percent to 17 percent in some areas of the US, there is most likely a real problem with these emissions.  via https://harvardelr.com/tag/drilling/

For example, a recent study found that the average methane loss in all distribution pipelines around Boston was about 2.7%, significantly higher than the 1.1% reported in inventory estimates to the EPA. Another study that was published in the academic journal, Science, showed that various independent measurements of methane leakage rate across the US infrastructure varied from about 1% to over 6%.

Climate Benefits of Switching from Coal to Natural Gas Fired Power Plants

Climate benefits of switching from coal to natural gas fired power plants critically depend on this leakage rate.

A literature review of simulated non-FF emissions, observational data description, additional box-model and 3D-model results, and comparison of GHG emissions impacts from NG and coal power generation using global warming potentials is available. This material is available free of charge via the Internet at http://pubs.acs.org.

This article seeks to contribute to the Climate Change Adaptation Program (CCAP) by considering the role that tax policy can play in helping to meet commitments under the Kyoto accord.

The author first provides a general justification for environmental taxes and tax incentives to address environmental challenges, examining different rationales for these tax measures and their implications for the design of environmental taxes and tax incentives.

He then reviews existing and potential tax measures in Canada and other developed countries that are directed at the problem of global warming, considering their likely effectiveness to reduce GHG emissions or enhance carbon sinks that remove GHGs from the earth’s atmosphere.

Tax Measures Which can Assist to Reduce Climate Change

Returning to the CCAP, the author suggests ways in which tax measures can contribute to each of the areas for which action is proposed under the plan:

(1) transportation;

(2) housing and commercial/institutional buildings;

(3) large industrial emitters (including renewable energy and cleaner fossil fuels);

(4) small and medium-sized enterprises and fugitive emissions; (5) agriculture, forestry, and landfills; and (6) international emission reductions.

Finally, he offers general conclusions on the role of tax policy in reducing global warming.

The proposed Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act sets out a tariff of fuel levies for the period from 2018 to 2022 which covers a range of liquid fuels (e.g. gasoline, diesel, aviation fuel, methanol, petroleum coke), gaseous fuels (e.g. natural gas, propane, butane, ethane, gas liquids) and solid fuels (e.g. coal, coke, combustible waste).

Rates are set based on global warming potential factors and emission factors, such that they are equivalent to $10/tCO2e in 2018, increasing by $10 annually to $50/tCO2e by 2022.

Why we Should be Concerned About Fugitive Emissions of Natural Gas

A maximum Global Warming of 1.5C was considered the most which would be tolerable by society

A preparatory summit for the next COP 24 in Korea between representatives of the 195 signatory states of the Paris Agreement and the IPCC. In one of the secondary documents that were published at the end of COP 23, the IPCC was asked to evaluate the global impact of climate change, if global temperatures had increased by 1.5 ° C compared to the pre-industrial period and to delineate the possible emission scenarios to reach the goal.

The IPCC has fulfilled the mandate received and has prepared a report that has been submitted to the approval of the signatory states of the Paris Agreement, so that it can constitute the scientific base to support the decisions of the next Conference of the Parties in Katowice.

The report shows that the 1.5 ° C increase in global temperature will already occur in 2040 on the basis of the accepted projections.

Why is Methane So Damaging as a Global Warming Gas

Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas (GHG) than carbon dioxide (CO2); it has 34 times the global warming potential of CO2 over a 100-year time frame, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change AR5 report.

Reductions in methane emissions today will help to slow the short-term rate of global temperature rise, as methane remains in the atmosphere for a much shorter time than CO2.

The Obama Clean Power Plan has Been Repealed by President Trump

The success of the Clean Power Plan was implemented by the US Obama administration to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But, even those regulations to curb methane leaks, which were already fairly mild in their influence have been abandoned by the Trump administration.

We now have a better estimate of fugitive emissions (leaks) of methane from the US natural gas infrastructure.

Concurrently, there should be a greater focus on developing cost-effective programs to detect and repair such leaks. It was recently reported that replacing old pipelines with newer ones in the gas distribution network in a city is effective in reducing leaks, and improving public safety.

With a considerably higher global warming potential than carbon dioxide, methane has the potential to erode the climate benefits earned by switching from high emitting coal plants to low emitting natural gas power plants.

Ensuring that does happen will take a coordinated effort and commitment from both the industry and government agencies.

See more about the repeal of the Clean Power Plan via https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clean_Power_Plan

Conclusion

The last two centuries have witnessed a soaring increase in atmospheric concentrations of GHGs. Human activities such as industry, agriculture, deforestation, waste disposal and especially unprecedented use of fossil fuel have been producing increasing amounts of GHGs.

For example, the concentrations of CO2 increased from approximately 280 part per million by volume (ppmv) in pre-industrial age to 372 ppmv in 2001 and has continued to increase at about 0.5% per year (IPCC, 2007) whereas current CH4 atmospheric concentration is going up at a rate 0.02 ppmv per year.

This is a serious matter for all of us. What can any individual so about this?

Be aware, and add your vote to all local and international climate change reduction measures whenever you have the opportunity.