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Study suggests that methane leaks counter the environmental advantages of natural gas

Natural gas is an important topic of conversation when it comes to making transportation greener. Not only can it be burned in place of gasoline in cars with internal combustion engines, but electricity generated from natural gas plants are less harmful to the environment than electricity from coal plants. The move from coal to natural gas, therefore, seems to be an important step in reducing greenhouse emissions, but a new study suggests that natural gas could potentially be doing more harm than good. Methane leaks at natural gas wells are putting harmful gasses into the atmosphere at a higher rate than previously suspected.

A study from the Environmental Defense Fund had previously stated that natural gas would still have an environmental advantage over coal, so long as leaks were kept under 3.2-percent. Since the EPA had reported the total for 2009 as being 2.4 percent, it was believed the system was working. But in February, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that a well in Colorado was leak at a rate of 4-percent, and that if this was indicative of what other well were leaking there was a problem. Now things have gotten even worse, as it was reported that a well in Utah was leaking at the staggering rate of 9-percent, according to a story in Nature.

This creates something of a dilemma, since the potential is there for natural gas to be a much cleaner source of energy. But this advantage will remain theoretical so long as this leakage issue persists, and it’s difficult to determine at what point we’d be better off abandoning the idea of natural gas in favor of another solution. For now, further study is required to asses where and how methane is leaking and what can be done about it.

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