Methane leaks highlight need for cleantech solutions

Fracking by Daniel Foster

By Maura Forrest

February 20, 2014

A new study has found that methane leaks from natural gas operations in Canada and the United States are much higher than official estimates. The leaks can occur throughout the production process, including at wellheads and along pipelines.

This excess atmospheric methane means that “climate benefits from vehicle fuel substitution are uncertain or improbable”, according to the study published in the journal Science. This is because methane has about 30 times more heat-trapping power than carbon dioxide.

In other words, measures to replace diesel buses with those that run on natural gas may not actually reduce overall emissions.

In 2013, an investigative report found that BC’s methane leaks are “likely at least seven times greater than official numbers”. The report challenged BC’s ability to meet the emissions targets outlined in its Climate Action Plan if it continues with LNG development.

Moreover, much of BC’s LNG industry will rely on fracking operations, which are even more likely to result in methane leaks.

However, the Science study found that natural gas-fired power plants are cleaner than coal-fired power plants, even when methane leaks are taken into consideration. Still, for BC’s LNG industry to produce a global emissions reduction, Asian markets would have to replace coal with Canadian natural gas rather than add on LNG as yet another energy source. And this may not happen for many years.

The study called for new regulations to reduce methane leaks, and argued that technological fixes are viable.

According to the study’s authors, “many solutions are economically profitable at moderate natural gas prices, with some technologies already being adopted”.

If BC can develop its own technology for reducing methane leaks from fracking operations, a common problem experienced around the world, the export potential could be high. And the province would be one step closer to meeting its climate goals.

Photo Credit: Daniel Foster