Natural gas is not much better for the environment than coal, the dirtiest of fossil fuels. This is the conclusion of a rigorous recent study by a government scientist, as summarized in a CleanTechnica.com article.

CleanTechnica reviewed articles by Stefan Schwietzke, a researcher at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Earth Systems Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, that dug deeply into data from various sources and calculated the true rate of natural gas “fugitive emissions,” which occur wherever there are leaks in pipelines and equipment.

Even though natural gas emits 50 percent less carbon dioxide than coal does when burned, it is effectively no better for the environment because fugitive emissions are so high, Schwietzke concluded.

“It turns out that fugitive emissions of methane from gas drilling and production are probably more harmful to the world’s climate than previously thought. Much more harmful,” CleanTechnica wrote. “Until now, scientists had lowballed the potential for fugitive emissions of methane from gas drilling. EPA’s current estimate of emissions, set at 1.2 percent, mostly on the basis of petroleum company estimates, was much lower than the range of averages computed by the new study (2 percent to 4 percent). Three percent is the generally accepted tipping point” at which natural gas becomes more harmful than coal.

The article notes that some natural gas sites measured even higher, including a 10 percent leakage rate measured by NOAA at Utah’s Uinta basin drilling site.

Schwietzke and his research team brought new clarity to the fugitive emissions issue by studying concrete data from gas drilling wellheads, pipelines and processing infrastructure.

They recalculated previous inventories from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and other sources to pin down emissions with more certainty. They then made natural gas calculations and put the results through a custom atmospheric computer model and concluded that “further emissions reductions by the NG (natural gas) industry may be needed to ensure climate benefits over coal during the next few decades.”

Schwietzke’s results “go a long way toward confirming previous independent findings by David Allen of the University of Texas, Robert Howarth at Cornell, and Scot Miller from Harvard,” the article states.

To read the CleanTechnica.com article, click here.