Friday, August 2, 2013

Senator Wyden Embraces 1% Methane Leakage Standard, Testing Gas Industry And Climate Activists

Reducing methane leakage should be an objective about which climate hawks and the natural gas industry should agree.  Climate hawks and the gas industry, therefore, should pay attention to an announcement made last week by Senator Wyden, the Chairman of the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources.

Wyden announced support for legislation reducing methane leakage rates from the gas industry to 1%.

Here is why climate hawks should embrace the Wyden effort.

Using gas instead of coal to make electricity has substantial immediate and long-term carbon reduction benefits when emissions are below 3.2%.  Using natural gas instead of gasoline to power cars has immediate and long-term carbon benefits when methane leakage rates are below 1.6%.  Using gas instead of diesel in heavy duty trucks has immediate and long-term climate benefits when methane leakage rates are below 1%.

The nuance in the data in the linked to study is the difference between immediate and long-term climate benefits.  Because the potency of methane as a heat trapping gas degrades substantially within 15 years, leakage rates can be considerably higher than the above percentages and still produce a long-term (100 years) climate benefit.  But to have both an immediate and long-term climate benefit, leakage rates must meet the levels stated in the proceeding paragraph.

In its 2013 report, EPA places current leakage rates at approximately 1.5%.  Consequently, burning gas instead of coal to generate electricity produces substantial immediate and long-term climate benefits.  Using CNG in most vehicles does the same.  But further reductions in leakage rate will be needed for gas in heavy duty trucks to produce carbon benefits in all time periods.

The reaction by the gas industry to the Wyden initiative will be interesting, even telling. For multiple reasons, including the need to improve its public standing, the industry should genuinely and completely embrace it. Those concerned about climate change should do the same.

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