Methane Leaks Impeding Environmental Benefits of Natural Gas

Known as the cleanest fossil fuel, natural gas is supposed to be a much lesser evil than others in the fossil fuel family — such as coal — but often times this type of gas — mainly composed of methane — escapes unburned. Natural gas has more than 80 times the potency of carbon dioxide and it takes 20 years to dissolve, making this issue particularly problematic.

Efforts to reduce the impact of climate change and make the world a greener place have resulted in natural gas becoming the number one source of energy fueling power plants in the U.S. However, methane leaks allow enough gas to escape each year to handle the heating and cooking of seven million households. This issue alone reaps the same short-term havoc on the climate as 240 power plants run on coal, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.

New Regulations Mandate Tougher Standards for Power Plants

Falling behind only carbon dioxide, methane is the second-highest greenhouse gas in the U.S. emitted from human activities, according the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In total, 60% of methane globally is emitted from human activities, including landfills, enteric fermentation, manure management, natural gas, and petroleum systems, and other sources. Natural gas and petroleum systems are the largest industry source of methane, so stricter regulations have recently been put in place to regulate emissions.

On August 3, 2015, the EPA issued its final standards to reduce gas emissions from new power plants. The mandates limit new power plans to emissions of 1,000 pounds or less of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity generated. Almost all new plants run on fossil fuels still in the planning stages will be powered by natural gas, instead of coal. In total, 200 natural gas plants are slated to open in the U.S. through 2018, according to the EPA.
Hopefully officials will be able to find a way to drastically reduce or completely eliminate methane leaks at these new power plants, so the planet will be able to experience the benefits supposed to be associated with this lesser evil fossil fuel.

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