Updated Jun 21, 2018

Natural gas boom: Methane emissions are far higher than EPA says

Methane researchers in the field. Photo: EDF

A new study out today in the journal Science finds that methane emissions from the U.S. oil and gas industry are nearly 60% more than current EPA estimates.

Why it matters: With natural gas now the dominant fuel for generating electricity in the U.S., determining its environmental footprint is crucial. Although burning natural gas for energy emits fewer long-lived greenhouse gases, it does release considerable amounts of methane — a potent, short-lived global warming agent.

The background: During the past decade, as the U.S. energy market has increasingly favored natural gas as a power source over coal — think of the "fracking" boom that transformed the landscape in several states — numerous studies have attempted to estimate its climate change ramifications.

What they found: Using ground-based measurements as well as data gathered from aircraft, researchers found that the current leak rate from oil and gas operations in the U.S. is 2.3%, compared to the EPA's estimate of 1.4%.

  • The volume of natural gas lost during its production could fuel 10 million homes, according to an Environmental Defense Fund press release.
  • The study, which represents the largest effort yet to quantify methane emissions from oil and gas operations, states such gas is worth $2 billion, giving the energy industry an incentive to act.

The big picture: Methane can have more than 80 times the global warming impact of carbon dioxide during the first 20 years after its release, though it declines after that.

What they're saying: "Emissions across the supply chain are large enough that they essentially double the footprint of natural gas combustion over a 20-year timeframe,” Ramon Alvarez, the lead author of the study and associate chief scientist at EDF, told Axios.

  • Study co-author Amy Townsend-Small of the University of Cincinnati described to Axios via email how methane emissions could negate progress on CO2 cutbacks:
"In the U.S., carbon dioxide emissions have decreased recently for a few reasons, one of which is a reduced reliance on coal for electricity generation.  But if that is accompanied by an increase in methane emissions from the natural gas supply chain and/or other anthropogenic and natural sources, it could cause rapid climate warming with potentially devastating impacts."

Yes, but: Robert Howarth of Cornell University says the new study could suffer from "a severe underestimate of the importance of methane emissions from the U.S. natural gas sector." Howarth, who was not involved in the study, tells Axios:

  • The study relies too heavily on direct measurements taken at energy facilities and then extrapolated to the energy industry more broadly.
  • By inferring aggregate emissions across large areas using planes, satellites and monitoring towers, Howarth says emissions estimates are even higher.
  • He says it also ignores emissions that occur during drilling, which other studies have found to be particularly high.

The bottom line: With deregulation all the rage in Washington, it may be up to the energy industry to clamp down on their methane emissions due to the monetary incentive involved. BP recently set a methane target for the first time, and ExxonMobil said it would cut methane emissions and has come out in favor of federal regulation.

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Top Trump ally sounds 2020 election alarm over coronavirus response

Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

There is growing concern among top conservative leaders that the Trump administration isn't addressing the long-term economic impact of the coronavirus, several sources tell Axios. One top adviser said if the recovery is bungled it could cost President Trump the election.

What we're hearing: "The next 4-8 weeks is really going to decide whether Trump gets reelected," Stephen Moore, Trump's former nominee for the Federal Reserve board, told Axios. If the administration mishandles its economic recovery efforts, he said, Trump is "in big trouble."

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 1,600,427 — Total deaths: 95,506 — Total recoveries: 354,006Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 465,329 — Total deaths: 16,513 — Total recoveries: 25,410Map.
  3. Public health latest: U.S. has expelled thousands of migrants under a CDC public health orderDr. Anthony Fauci said social distancing could reduce the U.S. death toll to 60,000.
  4. Business latest: The Fed will lend up to $2.3 trillion for businesses, state and city governments — After another 6.6 million jobless claims, here's how to understand the scale of American job decimation.
  5. 2020 latest: Top conservative leaders are concerned the Trump administration isn't addressing the virus' long-term economic impact.
  6. States latest: FEMA has asked governors to decide if they want testing sites to be under state or federal control.
  7. World latest: Lockdowns have led to a decline in murders in some of the world's most violent countries — Boris Johnson is moved out of the ICU but remains in hospital with coronavirus.
  8. In Congress: Senate in stalemate over additional funding for small business relief program.
  9. 1 SNL thing: "Saturday Night Live" will return this weekend in a remotely produced episode.
  10. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredPets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  11. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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Federal court temporarily blocks coronavirus order against some abortions

Gov. Greg Abbott. Photo: Tom Fox-Pool/Getty Images

A federal judge ruled Thursday that clinics in Texas can immediately offer medication abortions — a pregnancy termination method administered by pill — and can also provide the procedure to patients nearing the state's time limits for abortions.

Driving the news: The decision comes after federal appeals court ruled 2-1 on Tuesday in favor of an executive order by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott that prohibits abortions during the coronavirus outbreak.

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