Regulators Seek to Control Methane Leaks

By Published On: November 30, 2014

Controlling fugitive methane from natural gas infrastructure and quantifying the losses are a critical part of controlling greenhouse gas emissions, according to panelists at the National Association of Utility Regulatory Commissioners. It is an even bigger deal with the growing switch from coal-fired power and gasoline-powered vehicles to natural gas. Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and is estimated to be responsible for 25 percent of global warming. “Utilities don’t have solid numbers on the amount of leaks from their gas pipelines,” said Mark Brownstein, Environment Defense Fund chief counsel, Nov. 18. The leak rate “goes to the heart of whether natural gas is a low-carbon alternative to coal and oil,” Brownstein pointed out. He added that a leak rate of one percent is “the breakeven point for natural gas compared to conventional vehicles.” The problem is wrapped up in the inability to quantify leaks, as well as prioritize repairs, which are both environmental and safety issues. Should all leaks be treated equally or ranked by size of leak, asked Hank Linginfelter, executive vice president, AGL Resources. “Should dollars spent on revitalizing the infrastructure be spent on the biggest leaks, but that presumes you know where they are?” Linginfelter added. He noted that multiple small leaks on a pipeline may reflect a greater safety threat than a large leak. At the same time, technology is lacking to distinguish between large and small leaks. There is only technology to identify, not quantify, leaks, noted Thomas Hutchins, KinderMorgan Natural Gas Pipelines’ health & safety vice president. The California Air Resources Board proposed regulations to reduce methane emissions from oil and natural gas production, processing, transmission and storage. On Dec. 9, 2014, board staff are to present regulatory approaches, estimated cost impacts, emission estimates and an environmental analysis for the proposed regulation.

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