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Methane emissions may have been underestimated by up to 90%

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is underestimating methane emissions from oil and gas production according to new research published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. 

In order to measure methane emissions in the U.S, researchers at the Harvard School of Engineering developed a new method to trace and map total emissions from satellite data to their source on the ground.

Using this model, the researchers were able to trace the path of emissions from the atmosphere back to the ground and identify areas where the observations and simulations didn’t match up.

The biggest discrepancy was in emissions from oil and natural gas production.

They found that emissions from oil and gas production were 90%  and 50% higher respectively than the EPA estimated in its latest inventory.

The EPA calculates emission based on processes and equipment. For example, they estimate that a gas pump emits a certain amount of methane, multiplies that by how many pumps are operating across the country and estimates total emissions from gas pumps.

The researchers hope that future work will provide more clarity on exactly where these emissions are coming from and how they are changing.

Joannes Maasakkers, a former graduate student who developed this method said: ‘When we look at emissions from space, we can only see how total emissions from an area should be scaled up or down, but we don’t know the source responsible for those emissions.

‘Because we spent so much time with the EPA figuring out where these different emissions occur, we could use our transport model to go back and figure out what sources are responsible for those under- or over-estimations in the national total.

‘We plan to continue to monitor U.S. emissions of methane using new high-resolution satellite observations, and to work with the EPA to improve emission inventories.

‘It’s important to understand these emissions better but we shouldn’t wait until we fully understand these emissions to start trying to reduce them. There are already a lot of things that we know we can do to reduce emissions.’

Photo Credit – Pixabay

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