Anthony Ingraffea responds to new Science research on methane leakage

Cornell professor, Anthony Ingraffea, responds to questions on new study published in the journal, Science, that reveals much larger methane emissions from oil and gas extraction than previously acknowledged:

Asked how this study can be reconciled with Dr. Ingraffea’s research on methane emissions from U.S. gas extraction and distribution, Dr. Ingraffea responded,

“Its findings are largely consistent with what was published by Howarth et al. in 2011: oil/gas industry and the EPA have been underestimating national -scale methane emissions, by a large margin.”

Regarding the study’s conclusion that major methane leaks do not eclipse supposed benefits of switching from coal to natural gas for generating electricity, Dr. Ingraffea explained:
“I disagree. Once again, there is a stubborn use of the 100-year impact of methane on global warming, a factor about 30 times that of CO2. All the current consensus climate science, summarized in IPCC AR 5, says that we only have about 20-30 years before we reach the warning zone of temperature rise that could lead to climate tipping points. And we can’t wait 20-30 years to START decreasing CO2eq emissions from fossil fuels. Over a 20-year period, the consensus  impact factor for methane is about 80, and some peer-reviewed estimates say it could be over 100. There is NO scientific justification for the use of a 100-year period: that is a policy decision, perhaps based on faulty scientific understanding of the climate change situation in which we find ourselves, perhaps based on political wishful thinking. When one looks at the coal-methane tradeoff for electricity generation, the break-even leak rate over a 20-year period is less than 3%. And only about 1/3 of our methane usage is for electricity generation. Again, there is a stubborn refusal to admit that doing something non-fossil-foolish about the other two-thirds is even more important. This paper should have emphasized that the continued heating of our homes and businesses and our hot water with electricity generated from combusting methane cannot be scientifically justified from a climate change perspective.”

Asked how the study contributes to an understanding of methane leakage and what can be done about it, Dr. Ingraffea stated:
“It once again indicates that industry and the EPA have been underestimating, when we all should have been out there measuring, BEFORE setting energy policy. However, I disagree with the assertion that a significant dent can be made in methane emissions quickly and cheaply by an industry that refuses to accept that their estimates have been wrong. Ratepayers will have to pay to fix leaking infrastructure, IF the industry is forced to make the fixes, and, given the brief 20-year period we have left to DECREASE CO2eq emissions, such fixes will not be in time. They just make the ‘bridge’ too long in time.”

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