The “Keep It In the Ground” movement has been proliferating methane misinformation for years, repeatedly claiming methane leaks wipe out natural gas’ climate benefits and contribute significantly to climate change.
Numerous third-party experts, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and International Energy Agency (IEA), have refuted these claims and affirmed natural gas’ substantial climate benefits. And now, new research from the Gas Technology Institute’s Center for Methane Research puts U.S. natural gas system methane emissions into proper perspective with regard to global warming.
Based on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Annual Greenhouse Gas Index (AGGI), the 2016 Global Carbon Project’s Methane Budget and the 2017 EPA Greenhouse Gas Inventory, the paper finds that methane emissions from the U.S. natural gas industry account for just 1.2 percent of 2016 global methane emissions and 0.2 percent of total radiative forcing.
“Radiative forcing” is essentially the atmospheric impact that a greenhouse gas has to global warming. The report defines the term as:
“[A] quantitative estimate of how much that gas disrupts the balance between incoming radiation from the sun and outgoing radiation reflected from the Earth’s surface. The direct radiative forcing calculation is based on an empiric al equation derived from well-established atmospheric radiative energy transfer models and serves as a first-order proxy for global warming impact.”
As the chart below shows, the researchers used data from the Global Carbon Project’s (GCP) 2016 Global Methane Budget to arrive at the conclusion that 12.4 percent of global methane emissions are attributable to oil and natural gas production. The paper finds that just 1.2 percent overall methane emissions are attributable to the U.S. natural gas industry, based on the most recent EPA methane emission estimate of 1.2 percent of production, which is in line with a number of studies that find low U.S. leakage rates between 1 and 1.8 percent.
The following chart taken from the report details how the researchers categorized the total of 558 teragrams of 2016 global methane emissions; U.S. natural gas production is listed at the bottom of the chart.
The researchers calculate that overall global methane emissions account for about 16.7 percent of total radiative forcing. And by multiplying 16.7 percent by the small percentage of total methane emissions attributable to the U.S. natural gas industry (.012), they arrive at the conclusion that “U.S. natural gas industry emissions contributed to about 0.2% of radiative forcing in 2016.”
As the following graphic shows, the researchers find that roughly 75 percent of global radiative GHG forcing is attributable to carbon dioxide, while 16.7 percent is attributable to methane, including 8.8 percent attributable to human-caused methane emissions.
This data illustrates why a 2016 University of Oxford study found that many environmentalists are overstating the contribution of methane emissions to climate change. Oxford climate scientist and co-author Raymond Pierrehumbert told the Washington Post:
“People are placing too much emphasis on methane. And really, people should prove that we can actually get the CO2 emissions down first, before worrying about whether we are doing enough to get methane emissions down.”
Notably, the United States has reduced carbon emissions 14 percent since 2005, with about two-thirds of those reductions attributable to increased natural gas use made possible by hydraulic fracturing technology. In fact, we are already halfway toward our Paris Climate Accord commitments, even though the Trump administration plans to withdraw from the agreement.
The U.S. has also reduced methane emissions from natural gas development by 16 percent since 1990 at the same time natural gas production has increased 50 percent.
In other words, the U.S. is leading all industrialized nations in CO2 reductions — the greenhouse gas responsible for three-fourths of global warming, according to this report — and is also reducing methane emissions that represent a relatively minuscule contribution to the overall GHG radiative forcing (i.e. global warming) identified in this report.
This is essential information to keep in mind as “Keep It In the Ground” groups continue to insist that duplicative and expensive methane regulations are absolutely necessary, and that methane links from the U.S. fracking boom are exacerbating climate change. This new data add to the substantial list of evidence proving the exact opposite is true.