Methane fugitive emissions (2012)
In a climate change perspective, natural gas (mainly methane) has a redeeming quality: it burns cleaner than oil and coal. Indeed, its combustion releases less greenhouse gas (GHG) than other fossil fuels for the same level of delivered energy. In that sense, it seems to be an objective ally of climate. Unfortunately, methane, directly released in the atmosphere, happens to be a powerful GHG (28 times as powerful as CO2 on a 100-year perspective). Consequently, any methane leaks during fossil fuel extraction and natural gas transport or usage should be monitored carefully in order not to diminish the benefits of natural gas combustion. For example, according to the EPA, U.S. methane emissions in 2016 reached 202 MtCO2eq (3.4% of 2016 US emissions). The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), an American NGO that works with industries to reduce methane emissions, proved that current methane leaks are underestimated by 60% for the U.S., especially due to the undervaluation of massively large-scale leaks. The 2016 Californian leaks released 100,000 tons of methane in just a few weeks that was equivalent to 9.2 MtCO2. It is even more disheartening that the International Energy Agency reported in 2017 that 40 to 50 percent of methane emissions from natural gas infrastructure could be eliminated at no cost and the U.S. leaks are worth $2 Bn. If it is an issue for the United States, the paucity of information of other countries such as Russia, Angola and Nigeria is even more disquieting as we can speculate that the environment is not at the top of their priorities.