New research suggest that flaring natural gas from oil and gas wells isn’t actually doing all that great a job reducing methane emissions. In fact, according to a study released Thursday in the journal Science, “emissions are five times higher than previously thought, due to both unlit flares and inefficient combustion.” Researchers with the University of Michigan and CarbonMapper/University of Arizona took air samples from the Permian, Eagle Ford, and Bakken basins—areas responsible for around 80% of U.S. flaring. Using unlit flare prevalence surveys, the team discovered that when flares are properly used, they destroy only 91.1% of methane as opposed to the industry and government estimate of 98%.
A difference of around 7% may seem minimal, but those numbers quickly add up when it comes to damaging emissions like methane, which is more than 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. “This represents a five-fold increase in methane emissions above present assumptions and totals 4-10% of total U.S. oil and gas methane emissions,” researchers wrote, adding that “this highlights a previously under-appreciated methane source and mitigation opportunity.” Researchers also stressed the need for accountability to fully understand the issue in order to effectively address it.
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