HARVARD-LED STUDY REVEALS AGING NATURAL GAS DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM SHORT-CHANGES CUSTOMERS, CONTRIBUTES TO GREENHOUSE GAS BUILDUP
Imagine if every time you filled your car with gas, a few gallons didn’t make it into the tank and instead spilled onto the ground. That’s essentially what happens every day with the aging system of underground pipes and tanks that delivers natural gas to Boston-area households and businesses, with adverse economic, public health, and environmental consequences. Now a group of atmospheric scientists at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) has produced hard numbers that quantify the extent of the problem.
The Harvard-led team estimates that each year about 15 billion cubic feet of natural gas, worth some $90 million, escapes the Boston region’s delivery system. They calculated that figure by placing sophisticated air monitoring equipment in four locations: two atop buildings in the heart of Boston, and two at upwind locations well outside of the city. Then they analyzed a year’s worth of continuous methane measurements, used a high-resolution regional atmospheric transport model to calculate the amount of emissions, and concluded that:
- Some 2.7 percent of the gas that is brought to the Boston region never makes it to customers; it escapes into the atmosphere. That is more than twice the loss rate that government regulators and utilities estimate;
- Depending on the season, natural gas leaking from the local distribution system accounts for 60 percent to 100 percent of the region’s emissions of methane, one of the most insidious heat-trapping greenhouse gases.
The findings have implications for other regions, especially cities that, like Boston, are older and rely on natural gas for a significant and increasing portion of their energy needs. While policymakers have focused on the production end of the natural gas supply chain—wells, off-shore drilling platforms, and processing plants—much less attention has been paid to the downstream gas delivery infrastructure. The new study, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), suggests that intra-city distribution and end use systems may contribute more to the nation’s overall methane emissions than previously understood.
The Latest on: Methane emissions
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The Latest on: Methane emissions
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