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Colorado Methane Emissions Higher Than Thought, New Report Says

Colorado methane and other more deadly emissions from oil and natural gas operations are much higher than previously recorded in earlier studies, according to a report released by scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Reevaluating two days of aerial studies above the Front Range oil/gas fields in 2012, NOAA and CIRES found that methane emissions were nearly three times higher than previously quantified in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data.

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), which has been spearheading comprehensive industry and government study of the methane emissions issue (see Daily GPI, April 3), seized on the latest report to call for prompt action directed at methane emissions, something that parts of the oil/gas industry have argued is overstated.

This new study comes at a time when Colorado is pursuing a first-in-the-nation approach to providing rules related to methane emissions (see Daily GPI, Feb. 24) and the Obama administration has pushed for an all-out effort in this area as part of its climate change strategy (see Daily GPI, March 28).

In a peer-reviewed study accepted for publication by the American Geophysical Union'sJournal of Geophysical Research -- Atmospheres, NOAA and CIRES said this is one in a series of recent studies offering "substantial evidence" that major reductions in methane emissions from the oil/gas sector are "urgently needed."

The study is part of the EDF's series on the issue and comes in the midst of the environmental group lauding Colorado's new rules for targeting methane leaks and offering the chance to curb nearly 200,000 tons of combined methane and volatile organic compounds (VOC).

Focusing on the Denver-Julesburg (DJ) Basin in Colorado, NOAA calculated emissions attributable to oil/gas activity from the May 2012 aerial data gathered, calculating that there were roughly 19.3 metric tons of methane emissions every hour from the oil/gas patch with a leak rate of 4.1%, nearly three times higher than the EPA estimated rate that has been widely used as a baseline.

"These findings reinforce the fact that methane from the oil/gas sector is a problem requiring prompt action from both industry and policymakers," the EDF said. In addition, the study reportedly showed that emissions of the carcinogen benzene are seven times higher than previous estimates and emissions of VOCs nearly twice as high.

"Almost universally recent studies have shown methane leakage rates from [the oil/gas] industry are higher than expected nationwide, undercutting the potential climate benefits of natural gas," EDF's report noted.

Nevertheless, EDF's General Counsel Mark Brownstein lauded Colorado as a state on "the leading edge of science and regulation" for attempting to address emissions from the oil/gas industry in the state. "The study underscores the importance of the steps that Colorado is taking."

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