National Academy of Sciences of the
United States of America
Greater focus needed on methane leakage from
natural gas infrastructure
Natural gas is seen by many as the future of American energy: a fuel
that can provide energy independence and reduce greenhouse gas
emissions in the process.
However, there has also been
confusion about the climate implications of increased use of natural
gas for electric power and transportation.
We propose and illustrate the
use of technology warming potentials as a robust and transparent way
to compare the cumulative radiative forcing created by alternative
technologies fueled by natural gas and oil or coal by using the best
available estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from each fuel cycle
(i.e., production, transportation and use).
We find that a shift to
compressed natural gas vehicles from gasoline or diesel vehicles
leads to greater radiative forcing of the climate for 80 or 280 yr,
respectively, before beginning to produce benefits.
Compressed natural gas vehicles
could produce climate benefits on all time frames if the
well-to-wheels CH4 leakage were capped at a level 45–70% below
By contrast, using natural gas
instead of coal for electric power plants can reduce radiative
forcing immediately, and reducing CH4 losses from the production and
transportation of natural gas would produce even greater benefits.
There is a need for the natural
gas industry and science community to help obtain better emissions
data and for increased efforts to reduce methane leakage in order to
minimize the climate footprint of natural gas.
Ramón A. Alvareza,1,
Stephen W. Pacalab,1,
James J. Winebrakec,
William L. Chameidesd, and
Steven P. Hamburge
Contributed by Stephen W. Pacala, February 13, 2012 (sent for review
December 21, 2011)
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences