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 »
SHUTDOWN OFFICIALLY ENDS
Trump Signs Spending Bill
8 hours ago
THE LATEST
DACA VOTE TO COME
Dems Agree to Take McConnell’s Deal
16 hours ago
THE LATEST

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he's accepting Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's offer to hold an immigration vote at a later date, "clearing the way for passage of a bill to reopen the federal government" today. "McConnell early Monday promised to take up an immigration bill that would protect an estimated 800,000 Dreamers from deportation, under an open amendment process, if Democrats would agree to end the government shutdown."

Source:
IN EXCHANGE FOR FUNDING VOTE TODAY
McConnell Promises Vote on Immigration
18 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday promised to take up an immigration bill protecting an estimated 800,000 Dreamers from deportation and allow an open amendment process if Democrats agree to reopen the government." He may need up to a dozen Democratic votes.

Source:
CALLS FOR ‘NO CRS”
Trump Floats Support for Nuclear Option in Senate
1 days ago
THE LATEST
MORE AGENCIES TO FURLOUGH WORKERS
Senate Can’t Reach Deal on Shutdown, Will Try Again Monday
1 days ago
THE LATEST

The Senate on Sunday failed to reach agreement on a plan to fund the government through Feb. 8, postponing the vote until noon on Monday. "While lawmakers angled to score political points or shift blame, most agencies planned Monday to begin executing orderly shutdown procedures, per guidance from Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney."

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