RMI analysis proves methane leakage brings natural gas climate risk on par with coal

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Groundbreaking report finds that minute methane leakage contributes to the worst effects of climate change

BOULDER, Colo., July 14, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — A new analysis—to be published in the scientific journal Environmental Research Letters on Wednesday, July 19—concludes that a methane leakage rate as low as 0.2 percent brings a gas system’s climate risk on par with coal given methane’s climate warming potency (82.5x higher than CO2 over a 20-year timeframe). Satellite data shows that many US gas systems far exceed that 0.2 percent threshold of leakage.

Essentially, any amount of methane leakage contributes to the worst effects of climate change.

“This analysis compares gas and coal at varying methane leakage rates. We find that very small methane leakage rates from gas systems rival coal’s greenhouse gas emissions,” said Debbie Gordon, senior principal of RMI’s Climate Intelligence Program and co-author of the analysis with scientists from NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, Harvard and Duke University.

Increasingly sophisticated methane-detecting satellite imagery shows that many gas systems go far beyond that 0.2 percent threshold. Super-emitter events can spew hundreds of tons of methane per hour into the atmosphere.

Decades of self-reported emissions from the gas industry have compounded the problem by allowing such super-emitter events to remain off the books. The findings cast doubt on gas as a “climate safe alternative to coal” for the US energy mix. 

Gordon—who serves as a senior fellow at the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University and is the author of No Standard Oil (Oxford University Press, 2022)—expands on the facts behind the study’s methodology and findings which objectively conclude how methane swings the scales for gas industry climate risk.

Gordon is available for interviews prior to article publication on July 19.

RMI, founded as Rocky Mountain Institute, is a nonprofit founded in 1982 that transforms global energy systems through market-driven solutions to align with a 1.5°C future and secure a clean, prosperous, zero-carbon future for all. We work in the world’s most critical geographies and engage businesses, policymakers, communities, and NGOs to identify and scale energy system interventions that will cut greenhouse gas emissions at least 50 percent by 2030. 

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SOURCE Rocky Mountain Institute

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