The low-hanging fruit of climate solutions: Methane emissions

in September 10th, 2021

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After hearing her neighbor smelled methane in her home for months, Missouri activist Robin Ganahl worked with her state representative to get a nearby leak sealed. Now, she wants the state’s utility companies to make information on active leaks publicly accessible. The companies are pushing back, claiming it will create a false sense of security by leading customers to assume the dangerous leaks they smell have already been reported. Customers also pay for this unaccounted gas, which leaks before reaching their stoves and represents 3.2% of total sales.

Leak transparency, however, isn’t a novel idea. After a 2015 study showed how Boston’s aging pipes accounted for 50% of leaked gas, activists used the data to ultimately enact laws requiring leak maps be made public. If Missouri regulators don’t do the same, Ganahl is taking her proposal to local governments.

This problem of methane leaks is beyond both its smell and cost to consumers. Outside community health concerns, methane is now the primary target for tackling the world’s climate crisis. A major finding from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) found that:

  • Up to 50% of the current rise in global temperatures is from methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that retains heat at 80 times the rate of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.
  • About 0.3°C could be shaved from the expected increase in global temperatures by 2030 if methane pollution is reduced by 45% from fossil fuels, waste, and agriculture.
  • In the U.S., separate research reveals there are 60% more methane emissions than what the government’s estimates suggest. This equates to $2 billion worth of wasted gas that could have fueled 10 million homes for a year.

And American companies are starting to feel the pressure, especially after one of France’s largest energy companies delayed a $7 billion deal to buy natural gas from the U.S. over environmental concerns last year. While energy companies have been touting natural gas as the green fuel of the future (since it produces far fewer emissions than coal burning), the resulting methane leaks undermine that environmental play.

So what can be done? Just this week, Exxon announced that 7% of their total U.S. gas output will now be graded through a partnership between a nonprofit and global sustainability consultancy. These gas certifications provide A to F ratings based on how much methane is leaked into the atmosphere as a percentage of total gas produced. Meanwhile SoCalGas, the largest gas distribution utility in California, signed a $12 million agreement with an aerial methane leak detection company to help actively find and fix leaks.

🎬 Celebrate Action

Today we’re giving you a break by celebrating actions already taken by over 15,000 supporters. In 2016, the Obama administration enacted the first-ever nationwide requirements to reduce methane emissions. While reversed by Trump, Congress restored the standards in a bipartisan vote earlier this year.

Resource Center:

  • Energy News (Where we found this story) 2 weeks old | 8 minutes long
  • BBC IPCC’s 2021 report findings 1 month old  | 9 minutes long
  • Bloomberg Exxon’s new gas grading while France backs out 3 days old | 3 minutes long
  • Environmental Defense Fund Major studies reveal 60% more methane emissions in U.S. 1 year old | 5 minutes long
  • SoCalGas’ plan to use gas-mapping 2 weeks old | 4 minutes long
  • California’s additional plans to hunt leaks 5 months old | 8 minutes long
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Man, their fireplace is always running.

They’re just trying to drown out the smell of methane.

Art Credit: Joan G. Stark

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