Researchers at Colorado State University (CSU) are beginning to collect data from possible fugitive methane emissions sources in natural gas transmission systems in an effort to quantify the amount of the greenhouse gas that is escaping.

Pipelines, compressor stations and underground storage facilities are to be examined nationwide by researchers led by CSU’s Engines and Energy Conversion Lab. A team led by Bryan Willson, CSU mechanical engineering professor, and researcher Dan Zimmerle is to begin collecting data this month.

“…[U]understanding how much methane leaks at various points along the supply chain, including the transmission and storage segment, is critical to discerning the potential of natural gas to offer climate benefits in various fuel-switching scenarios,” Wilson said.

In its U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory Report, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the natural gas industry accounts for 25% of U.S. methane emissions, with transmission and storage accounting for 30% of this quantity (i.e., 7.5% of the U.S. total), the CSU researchers said.

“This study will provide an additional, independent assessment for the transmission and storage sector that can be linked to other studies to allow an accurate, impartial, peer-reviewed and scientifically published estimate of leakage throughout the entire ‘well-to-burner tip’ supply chain,” Willson said.

Results of the research are expected to be released during the first half of 2014 and will help better define a national methane emissions rate for U.S. transmission and storage systems. The CSU Engines and Energy Conversion Lab is one of the largest independent engine testing laboratories of its kind in the world, according to CSU.

Sponsors of the project include Environmental Defense Fund, CenterPoint Energy Gas Transmission, Dow Chemical, Dominion, the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, Kinder Morgan, TransCanada and Williams. Pipeline operators CenterPoint, Dominion, Kinder Morgan, TransCanada and Williams are providing access to their gas facilities and equipment for tests in different regions throughout the country.

The CSU study is part of a two-year effort in which the Environmental Defense Fund and the natural gas industry are funding more independent academic research with a mission of more fully characterizing methane emissions from the production, transmission and storage, gathering and processing, local distribution, and end-use of natural gas.

To quantify how much methane is released into the atmosphere from transmission and storage facilities, the study will evaluate existing data and take additional measurements throughout the summer and fall. Measurements will be primarily focused on compressor stations and underground storage facilities, and they will consist of downwind tracer gas measurements paired with simultaneous source-by-source measurements.

Companies will also provide emissions and operating data from previous methane measurements. The total data set, including the measurements from the CSU team, will then be used in a model to estimate transmission and storage methane emissions in the United States.

A scientific advisory panel composed of professors and experts in the fields relevant to the study will serve as independent advisers reviewing the appropriateness of the methodologies, the model, statistical methods, and study results.

In a recent report, the Arlington, VA-based Center for Climate and Energy Solutions said climate benefits from increased use of natural gas can be maximized only if steps are taken throughout the gas system to reduce methane leaks, a potent source of greenhouse gas (see Daily GPI, June 5).

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