University of Texas Study Underestimates National Methane Emissions at Natural Gas Production Sites Due to Instrument Sensor Failure

Energy Science & Engineering (Aug. 4, 2015; DOI: 10.1002/ese3.81) / by Touché Howard
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1002/%28ISSN%292050-0505/earlyview

[New York Times] A device commonly used to measure the methane that leaks from industrial sources may greatly underestimate those emissions, said an inventor of the technology that the device relies on.

The claim, published Tuesday in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, suggests that the amount of escaped methane, a potent greenhouse gas, could be far greater than accepted estimates from scientists, industry and regulators.

The new paper focuses on a much-heralded report sponsored by the Environmental Defense Fund and published by University of Texas researchers in 2013; that report is part of a major effort to accurately measure the methane problem. But if the supposed flaws are borne out, the finding could also have implications for all segments of the natural gas supply chain, with ripple effects on predictions of the rate of climate change, and for efforts and policies meant to combat it.

Almost all of the methane leakage calculated from the Texas research “could be affected by this measurement failure,” according to the paper; “their study appears to have systematically underestimated emissions…

The lead author of the Texas study, Prof. David T. Allen, stood by his work. “There may be issues with some of these instruments, but we tested our instruments pretty thoroughly and when we went out into the field we had multiple instruments, all of which gave us information,” he said. Alternate measurement methods were used at some sites, he said, and “we didn’t see any evidence that we were missing any large numbers…”

An expert on methane, Robert Howarth of Cornell University, said he found Mr. Howard’s paper “very compelling.” Professor Howarth was not involved in the research but has long argued that official estimates of methane emissions are far too low.

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