Could the Government Be Vastly Underestimating U.S. Methane Gas Emissions?

Knowing how much of the gas exists in the atmosphere is crucial, but pinning down a national emissions estimate is proving to be tricky.

An oil drilling rig, a producer of methane gas emissions, near Watford City, N.D.
National Journal
Marina Koren
Add to Briefcase
Marina Koren
Nov. 25, 2013, 10:20 a.m.

While it ranks far behind carbon dioxide in total emissions, methane is the second most common greenhouse gas emitted in the U.S. from human activities, accounting for 9 percent. Its lifetime in the atmosphere is much shorter than that of carbon dioxide — about 10 years — but methane is better at trapping and holding onto radiation than the other gas. Pound for pound, methane’s effect on climate change is 20 times that of carbon dioxide over 100 years, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Knowing how much of the stuff exists in the atmosphere, then, is crucial for lawmakers and scientists alike, who collaborate on national and state greenhouse-gas reduction plans. Pinning down a national estimate, however, is proving to be tricky.

Earlier this month, a pair of senators asked EPA to reconsider its estimates of methane emissions from natural-gas operations, and even rethink how it measures atmospheric methane, at a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing. David Vitter, R-La., and Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., cited a September report funded by the Environmental Defense Fund and several gas operators that said the gas industry emits 10 percent less methane than what EPA’s inventory indicates.

And now, research published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that the government database may underestimate the true values of U.S. methane gas emissions by 50 percent.

Researchers traced atmospheric methane measurements across North America in 2007 and 2008 back to known emissions-producing sites, such as landfills, livestock ranches, and oil and gas facilities.

Emissions from oil and gas drilling in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas, researchers found, were nearly triple that of most inventories, and almost five times higher than the the Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research, the most commonly used global emissions inventory.

EPA’s latest report from its Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program showed that methane-gas emissions have slightly decreased in recent years in some industries such as fossil fuels and petroleum and natural gas.

The agency is not oblivious to the discrepancies that exist between its own measurements and those of civil scientists. “EPA has not yet had the opportunity to fully review the PNAS study on methane emissions,” the agency said in a statement to National Journal. “However we are encouraged that more methane emissions measurement data are now available to the public. Research studies like these will add to our knowledge base of [greenhouse gas] emissions and will help us refine our estimates going forward.”

If EPA’s own measurement data is not immune to change, it’s unlikely that state-level and other nations’ greenhouse-gas emissions inventories are either, especially as the technology that measures the potent gas and where it originates continues to develop.

What We're Following See More »
HAPPENED LAST WEEK
Bannon Subpoenaed By Mueller
45 minutes ago
THE LATEST

"The move marked the first time Mr. Mueller is known to have used a grand jury subpoena to seek information from a member of Mr. Trump’s inner circle. ...Mr. Mueller is likely to allow Mr. Bannon to forgo the grand jury appearance if he agrees to instead be questioned by investigators in the less formal setting of the special counsel’s offices in Washington."

Source:
RYBICKI TO DISCUSS CLINTON’S EMAIL SERVER
Wray Chief of Staff to Meet with House Investigators Thursday
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

"The chief of staff and senior counselor to FBI Director Christopher Wray is expected to meet with the House Oversight Committee Thursday. A spokesperson for House Oversight confirmed to the Washington Examiner that Jim Rybicki is expected to testify as part of the committee’s investigation into the Department of Justice’s probe in Hillary Clinton’s private email server, and the decision by then-FBI Director James Comey to announce there would be no criminal charges against the former secretary of state and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee."

Source:
WON’T SAY WHETHER NORWAY IS PREDOMINATELY WHITE
Nielsen Defends Trump Before Senate Judiciary
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Homeland Security Kristjen Nielsen confirmed that President Trump used 'tough language' in an Oval Office meeting last week over immigration policy, but she said she did not hear him describe some African countries and Haiti as 'shithole countries,' as has been reported." When pressed she, also said she "didn't know" whether Norway was a predominately white country.

Source:
TICKS UP TO 12.2%
Uninsured Rate Rose in 2017
2 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"The percentage of Americans without health insurance ticked up 1.3 percentage points in 2017, ending the year at 12.2%, according to the latest data from Gallup. That’s still a lot lower than it was before the Affordable Care Act’s coverage expansion took effect, but this is the biggest single-year increase under the ACA."

Source:
TESTIMONY COULD HAPPEN AS SOON AS FRIDAY
Hicks to Meet with House Intel Committee
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

"White House Communications Director Hope Hicks is expected to meet with the House Intelligence Committee as soon as this week, making her one of President Donald Trump's closest confidantes to be privately interviewed in the panel's Russia investigation, multiple sources with knowledge of the matter told CNN." She could testify as soon as Friday.

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login