Good News: Methane Leaks are Easy to Fix. Bad News: There’s a lot of them
March 15, 2017
However, this study estimated that annual methane emissions may actually be 11-90 times higher for refineries and 2 -120 times higher for natural gas power plants than those calculated from data provided by facility operators and reported to the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program, and used in the Greenhouse Gas Inventory of Emissions and Sinks.
“There is much more methane being released into the atmosphere by leaky compressors, valves, and industrial hardware,” Shepson says. “But the good news here is that you can take a specialized infrared camera around the plant to find the leaks and then patch the them with a wad of bubblegum. I’m joking about that, of course, but the point is that it’s a relatively easy thing to fix.”
The study’s paper was released today by the journal Environmental Science & Technology, which is produced by the American Chemical Society.
The study conducted in collaboration with the New York-based Environmental Defense Fund, with funding provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
Joseph Rudek, a lead senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund and a co-author on the paper, says that natural gas power plants and refineries could be a significantly unaccounted-for source of methane emissions. “More measurements are needed to better understand the methane emissions from these sectors.”
Steve Hamburg, chief scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, says that the leaking methane will especially diminish the environmental effects of using natural gas over the first few critical decades.
“There is the capacity to cost-effectively reduce methane emissions associated with use and production of natural gas, so there’s no excuse for the waste and serious long-term impacts” he says.
The study was conducted using Purdue’s flying atmospheric chemistry laboratory, the Airborne Laboratory for Atmospheric Research, or ALAR. The ALAR is a modified Beechcraft 76 Duchess that flies at a height of 6,000 to 12,000 feet (2 to 4 kilometers) collecting air samples and conducting sophisticated measurements.
“ALAR is a unique machine, and it was created by combining three of Purdue’s major strengths: atmospheric sciences, analytical chemistry, and aviation technology,” Shepson says.
Shepson says the benefit of this research is that everyone involved will be able to improve the emission factor formulas used in calculating the amount of methane entering the atmosphere based on the total emissions of the plants, not just the amount going up the smokestacks.
“But the important overall message of the study is to say while natural gas power plants appear to provide a climate benefit, it can still be easily improved'” he says.