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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.

Go deeper

Super typhoon Surigae explodes to Cat. 5 intensity

Super Typhoon Surigae seen on satellite imagery Saturday morning east of the Philippines. (CIRA/RAMMB)

Super Typhoon Surigae surged in intensity from a Category 1 storm on Friday to a beastly Category 5 monster on Saturday, with maximum sustained winds estimated at 190 mph with higher gusts.

Why it matters: This storm — known as Typhoon Bising in the Philippines — is just the latest of many tropical cyclones to undergo a process known as rapid intensification, a feat that studies show is becoming more common due to climate change. It weakened slightly, to the equivalent of a strong Category 4 storm, on Sunday.

3 hours ago - World

Biden adviser warns "there will be consequences" for Russia if Navalny dies

The Biden administration warned the Russian government "that there will be consequences" if jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny dies, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN on Sunday.

The big picture: Sullivan also defended President Biden for not mentioning Navalny in a Thursday speech about Russia or in a Tuesday call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying the White House aims to deal with the issue "privately and through diplomatic channels."

3 killed, 2 wounded overnight in Kenosha bar shooting

Three people died and two were hospitalized with serious injuries after a gunman entered bar in Kenosha County, Wisconsin, the police department said in a statement on Sunday. Police responded to the shooting at around 12:42 a.m. and the suspect has not been found.

The big picture: The midnight shooting is the latest in a string of deadly mass shootings to hit the U.S. since March, fueling a debate in Washington about how to regulate the weapons.

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