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As World Shifts to Renewables, Methane Leaks from Oil and Gas Production 60 Percent Greater than EPA Estimate

In the News
Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Sixty percent more methane escapes from U.S. oil and gas operations than the Environmental Protection Agency currently estimates, according to a study led by the  Environmental Defense Fund.

The study, to which 15 universities and research institutions contributed, attributes the difference to the agency’s failure to account for equipment malfunctions at drilling sites, and processing and pipeline facilities. 

According to the study, 13 million metric tons of methane – the main component of natural gas – are leaked from these facilities, amounting to more than 2 percent of total oil and natural gas production. The leaked methane is worth $2 billion. This would be enough to supply 10 million homes with gas each year.

The new estimate undermines the argument that natural gas is helping combat climate change, as methane is 80 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

At the same time, Bloomberg’s New Energy Outlook 2018 forecasts an unstoppable global move toward renewables and energy storage, with coal and nuclear power virtually eliminated from the U.S. power mix by 2050. The report predicts this change based on the confluence of falling prices, growing efficiencies in wind and solar technology, and increasing electric vehicle sales.

The number of natural gas plants will increase globally, but the plants will run less because of the expanding penetration of renewables and storage technology. As a result, natural gas usage in the electric sector will remain virtually flat through 2050, Bloomberg predicts. This would be cause for concern, as burning natural gas has not only serious climate change repercussions, but also severe public health impacts.

However, 40 to 50 percent of methane emissions from natural gas infrastructure could be eliminated at no cost, a 2017 report by the International Energy Agency found.

But as EWG recently reported, fracking cannot be done without threatening human health. The health risks include increased risk of cancer, asthma and birth defects near fracking wells, due to the array of toxins fracking emits into the air and water.

The Bloomberg report projects the shift toward renewable energy will continue as solar and storage costs drop by about 70 percent, and wind costs drop by 60 percent. By 2050, wind and solar will comprise half of the global energy mix, and fossil fuel electric generation will fall from 60 percent to under 30 percent, the report said.

And, as EWG reported, both coal and natural gas generation fell last year for the first time ever, as these forms of energy lost ground to cheaper wind and solar technology.

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