Study: Flawed methane monitor underestimates leaks at oil and gas sites

Researchers find there may be drastically more methane in the air than is being reported to industry and government. By Lisa Song, InsideClimate News May 5, 2015

A popular scientific instrument used to measure methane leaks from oil and gas operations severely underestimates emissions under certain conditions, a preliminary study found. The results could have major implications for federal policies as the Obama administration moves to regulate methane from the natural gas industry.

The research paper raises serious questions about the validity of existing methane data. Measurements taken by the instrument are frequently used by the Environmental Protection Agency to estimate industrial releases of methane—a greenhouse gas dozens of time more potent than carbon dioxide. In fact, the EPA lists the device as an approved tool that oil and gas companies can use to measure and report their methane emissions.

“It could be a big deal,” especially if it turns out the EPA is underestimating methane leaks, said study co-author Amy Townsend-Small, a geology professor at the University of Cincinnati. The paper was published in late March 2015 in the peer-reviewed Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association.

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