Fugitive Emissions

Commentary on a side event entitled:

Catalyzing Pre-2020 Mitigation Action: Phasing Down HFCs & Reducing Methane Emissions
This event will focus on how countries can take tangible actions now to help close the gigatonne gap, through on the ground projects that reduce methane emissions and phasing down HFCs under the Montreal Protocol.

The lcop3argest source of atmospheric methane in the U.S. in place of coal is natural gas. It’s a significant climate benefit – if it’s not leaking like a sieve. According to the BlueGreen Alliance, it is.

As the U.S. increases its production of natural gas, one problem that goes unforeseen is the leaking of methane from decrepit pipelines. Some pipelines are so old they are made out of wood and are inefficient in keeping the gas from escaping. Pipes made from cast iron and bare steel are also “leaking like crazy”. Just under American cities, these pipes are leaking significantly (Boston, San Francisco etc.)  and are estimated to be equivalent to all the cars and pickups in the entire city of Pennsylvania.  The realization is that there needs to be more research; it is ambiguous as to where all the leaks are in the system.  Massachusetts ratepayers have paid over $1.5 billion for natural gas that never made it to their homes. Conservation Law Foundation President John Kassel noted on the issue:

“…the 3,356 separate natural gas leaks under the streets of Boston reminds us that, as we walk or drive down the street, we are often driving through an invisible cloud of natural gas leaking from aging pipes. If you are like me, to accept the avoidable risk of a predictably volatile gas is deeply unsettling.”

There are estimated to be 91,000 miles of leaking pipes. The solution presented  by the panel is to focus on the state level, passing laws allowing utilities to asses a rate case and funding to go through an accelerated pipeline replacement program. Utilities need to figure out a way to fund it. It is an expensive proposition. the recommendation involves setting up a program that allows utilities, to go to consumers, to put money on their bill – to replace these leaking pipes.  A $4-$12 per year  figure is estimated for each participating household. The BlueGreen Alliance notes this “may be an overstatement” because we are already paying for leaking gas. Risk management is outlined here in the World Resources Institute’s working paper.

The primary component of natural gas, methane is 72 times stronger as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (CO2) over a 20-year horizon; 25 times stronger over a 100-year horizon. While methane represents only about 10-12% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, its potency – if unchecked – could significantly deliquesce what is perhaps the most talked-about benefit of more natural gas in America’s, and the world’s, energy future.