Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Corporate gatekeepers and big tech monopolists are making it more difficult than ever for independent media to survive. Please chip in today.

The newly identified emissions "would increase total emissions from the natural gas supply chain in EPA’s current Greenhouse Gas Inventory by approximately 25 percent if added to the tally," said EDF's Mark Brownstein. (Photo: EnergyTomorrow/cc/flickr)

Newly Exposed Methane Threat Trumps Latest 'False Solution' on Emissions

Previously overlooked natural gas gathering facilities spewing as much methane as 37 coal-fired power plants

Lauren McCauley

Environmental groups are raising flags over what they say is another "false solution" as the Obama administration on Tuesday put forth its new proposed methane emissions rules.

Meanwhile, a new study revealed that those very emissions are in fact "substantially higher" than official estimates, adding to the growing body of evidence showing that the proliferation of natural gas—even if "capped"—will only exacerbate climate change.

The study, led by researchers at Colorado State University and published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, found that natural gas gathering facilities lose about 100 billion cubic feet of natural gas a year, amounting to roughly eight times more than previous estimates used by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The facilities, which collect from multiple wells before distributing the gas to power plants and homes, have been overlooked by previous emission surveys. "Yet," notes Mark Brownstein, vice president in the Environmental Defense Fund's Climate and Energy Program, "they may be the largest methane source in the oil and gas supply chain."

The newly identified emissions "would increase total emissions from the natural gas supply chain in EPA’s current Greenhouse Gas Inventory by approximately 25 percent if added to the tally," Brownstein notes.

Further, the emitted methane "packs the same 20-year climate impact as 37 coal-fired power plants," and is said to be 87 times as potent as carbon dioxide.

The new research comes on the heels of another study which found that the instruments used to measure methane emissions were faulty, causing current assessments to underestimate actual emission rates "by factors of three to five."

Natural gas has been championed by the White House and other politicians as a "green" alternative to coal and oil. However, research into the environmental impacts—whether by fracking or methane emissions—have shown it to be increasingly unviable.

On Tuesday, the Obama administration released the first-ever plan to reduce methane emissions as part of its new climate strategy. The proposed standards would cap the amount of methane and volatile organic compounds (VOC) being emitted from new and modified oil and gas facilities.

While individuals who live close to fossil fuel facilities welcomed the rule as a major public health effort, environmentalists said it neglected to account for the significant emissions from older wells and did not go nearly far enough to address climate change. 

"The regulation of methane cannot become a justification for continuing our reliance on fossil fuels," said Friends of the Earth climate and energy campaigner Kate DeAngelis. "The real solution to climate change is to leave fossil fuels in the ground and to clean up the abandoned wells that continue to poison our air."

And Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, agreed, saying that the rules "could not possibly hold off the growing climate crisis."

Rather, Hauter added, "these regulations would wrongly promote natural gas as a ‘clean’ alternative to oil and coal. These weak regulations leave the impression that pursuing natural gas benefits the environment, providing a justification for continuing to drill and frack."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Omar Leads Charge Against Baby Formula Monopolies Amid US Shortage

Democrats urge the FTC to probe "any unfair or unsustainable practices, like deceptive marketing, price gouging, and stock buybacks, that may be weakening our nutritional formula supply."

Jessica Corbett ·

'This Is a War' for Democratic Party's Future, Says Sanders of AIPAC's Super PAC

"They are doing everything they can to destroy the progressive movement in this country," said the senator.

Julia Conley ·

Ginni Thomas Pressed Arizona Lawmakers to Reverse Biden's 2020 Win: Report

"Clarence Thomas' continued service on the Supreme Court is a scandalous and appalling breach of judicial ethics," said one observer. "He is implementing the exact same theories that his wife used to try to steal the 2020 election for Trump."

Brett Wilkins ·

Millions More Kids Going Hungry Since GOP, Manchin Killed Expanded Child Tax Credit

"Even brief disruptions in access to food can have lasting consequences," wrote the authors of a new analysis of worsening hunger among U.S. families.

Kenny Stancil ·

WHO to Convene Emergency Meeting on Monkeypox Outbreak

Leading public health experts plan to discuss the ongoing outbreak as the number of confirmed cases in the U.K. more than doubled on Friday to 20.

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo