New Study Says Methane Emissions from Oil and Natural Gas Production Lower Than Estimated

June 19, 2019

A new study from Geophysical Research Letters has found that methane emissions from oil and natural gas production over the past decade are “an order of magnitude lower” than what has been reported by previous studies. The study was authored by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Colorado – two of the leading global experts on methane emissions.

Further, the study states that errors in previous estimates come from using ethane (C2H6) and propane (C3H8) measurements to measure methane. “Although C2H6 and C3H8 are appropriate indicative tracers for [oil and natural gas] emissions,” the authors note, “[oil and natural gas] CH4 trends cannot be accurately estimated from C2H6 and C3H8. Thus, any conclusion of a large fossil CH4 increase in the past decade from studies that have used the constant [overall emission reduction efficiency] assumption is unreliable.”

The results of their study are bolstered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2018 Greenhouse Gas Inventory (GHGI), released in April 2019, which revealed total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States decreased by 35.6 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent, or 0.5 percent from 2016 to 2017. Over this same period, oil production in the United States has increased by 80 percent and natural gas production has increased by 51 percent, according to the Energy Information Administration, attributed to the success of frac’ing.

In other words, production has increased, and emissions have decreased. Reserves are larger than previously thought, that is great news for everyone.

I encourage you to read this study, which is a wealth of excellent support and citations for our mission to lower emissions while making certain that natural gas is a sustainable fuel for the foreseeable future.

Richard Hyde, Executive Director