The study by Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences of methane emissions in the Boston area looked at only that area and confirms much of what we already know, that methane is being emitted from a variety of sources. Unfortunately, without identifying the specific source of the emission it is difficult to draw any conclusions from it.
Safety is a core value for natural gas utilities. AGA member companies in the Boston area and throughout the country are part of a concerted effort to upgrade and modernize our nation’s pipeline network to enhance safety that has contributed to a declining trend in emissions from natural gas distribution systems.
We believe that this issue deserves closer study to better understand emissions associated with the distribution and delivery of natural gas. AGA and thirteen of its member companies have been participating with the Environmental Defense Fund in a nationwide field study conducted by the Washington State University to measure emissions from natural gas distribution systems. The results should be more instructive because this study used direct source measurements and was able to isolate emissions specifically from distribution pipes and equipment.
More than 177 million Americans continue to use natural gas to cook a hot meal, heat their water or warm their houses. Our nation’s abundance of this clean energy resource has driven affordable and stable prices throughout the country.
The Obama Administration recently announced regulations on emissions from the natural gas industry which did not include recommendations for local distribution companies. Natural gas utilities are committed to systematically upgrading infrastructure, driven by risk-based integrity management programs, and there is a growing effort to accelerate the replacement of pipelines no longer fit for service. Proactive efforts from natural gas utilities, along with involvement in important programs like the EPA’s Natural Gas STAR program, have contributed to the fact that natural gas emissions from utility-owned distribution systems have dropped 22 percent since 1990, even as the industry added nearly 600,000 miles of distribution mains and service lines to serve 17.5 million more customers, an increase of 32 percent. Nearly 90 percent of the emissions declines from distribution systems since 1990 are due to pipeline replacements. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), only 0.24 percent of produced natural gas is emitted from systems operated by local natural gas utilities.
In 2014, AGA released a set of voluntary guidelines to serve as a resource for AGA members to assist in evaluating potential options that may lead to further emissions reductions for distribution systems, and AGA is working with EPA to develop a new voluntary Gold STAR certification for the natural gas distribution sector. The natural gas industry is actively engaged in this discussion along with rigorous, science-based analysis to ensure natural gas continues to be a leading solution for our nation’s clean and secure energy future. AGA members are committed to continuing this positive trend of declining emissions, and we look forward to continued collaboration with key stakeholders in this effort.