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Environ Sci Technol. 2014 Jul 15;48(14):7714-22. doi: 10.1021/es501204c. Epub 2014 Jun 27.

Natural gas fugitive emissions rates constrained by global atmospheric methane and ethane.

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Department of Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University , Baker Hall 129, 5000 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213, United States.


The amount of methane emissions released by the natural gas (NG) industry is a critical and uncertain value for various industry and policy decisions, such as for determining the climate implications of using NG over coal. Previous studies have estimated fugitive emissions rates (FER)--the fraction of produced NG (mainly methane and ethane) escaped to the atmosphere--between 1 and 9%. Most of these studies rely on few and outdated measurements, and some may represent only temporal/regional NG industry snapshots. This study estimates NG industry representative FER using global atmospheric methane and ethane measurements over three decades, and literature ranges of (i) tracer gas atmospheric lifetimes, (ii) non-NG source estimates, and (iii) fossil fuel fugitive gas hydrocarbon compositions. The modeling suggests an upper bound global average FER of 5% during 2006-2011, and a most likely FER of 2-4% since 2000, trending downward. These results do not account for highly uncertain natural hydrocarbon seepage, which could lower the FER. Further emissions reductions by the NG industry may be needed to ensure climate benefits over coal during the next few decades.

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