Gas Plant Methane Emissions Understated According to New Study


According to Utility Dive, methane emissions from natural gas plants are much higher than previous studies have shown.  The findings, detailed in a new study from Purdue University, indicate that actual methane leaks are at least twice as high as previously reported, and in some cases could be a whopping 120 times higher.  This is ironic considering the move toward gas-fired plants has been partially fueled (pardon the pun) by the fact that gas does not release as much carbon dioxide as coal.

Why Methane Emissions Matter

For now, gas is still cleaner than coal, but there is a threshold of methane leakage that would serve to flip the script – methane is 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide, so if more than 3% leaks from a facility, that facility would have a larger impact on the climate than the equivalent coal plant.  The good news is that study found only a 0.3% leakage on average.

However, it stands to reason that as more and more electricity is generated from gas plants, the greater the impact on the climate.  And the trend of increased gas-fueled electricity is not going to change anytime soon, especially since Trump’s promise to scale back the EPA’s methane rules will keep the price of gas low.

The long-term impact of gradually increased methane emissions is troublesome.  Everybody understands that climate change is increasing the frequency of severe weather, which means the frequency of power outages will continue to rise as well.  This will agitate customers to an increasing degree, especially with the proliferation of social media, which in turn will rile up regulators who will put even more pressure on utilities to harden their systems and improve emergency response.  Of course, this is largely speculation, but the writing is on the wall.  The conclusion?  Being prepared is more important now than ever before, and will continue to grow in importance over time.

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