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March 21st, 2012:

As Natural Gas Production Grows, Questions Persist About Methane Leaks

American Energy Coalition - March 21st, 2012

The Kansas City Star reports that as natural gas production in the United States expands, a major question looms: What does more gas drilling mean for climate change?

While the Obama administration promotes natural gas as a "clean energy source," studies have shown that natural gas drilling releases methane - the fuel's primary component - into the atmosphere. Methane is 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, according to the article.

"Even small leaks can wind up undoing most of the global warming benefit we think we're getting when we substitute natural gas for coal," said Mark Brownstein, who leads the natural gas and oil team at the Environmental Defense Fund. "We can continue to debate what the leak rates are. Or let's get the data and let's fix the leaks and move on," he said.

A study by Robert Howarth and colleagues at Cornell University released last April, concluded that natural gas is more polluting than coal when the gas-field emissions are taken into account. The study said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) official estimate of methane emissions was far too low. Howarth said that shale gas had higher greenhouse gas emissions than coal and wasn't suitable as a "bridge fuel" to cleaner energy.

EPA is studying the issue but has no immediate plans to measure methane emissions, according to the Star report. The agency isn't directly measuring methane emissions from gas drilling, either. However, it will require oil and gas companies to submit data on their greenhouse gas emissions later this year for the first time.

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