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NASA Reveals Methane 'Super-Emitter' Impact on Four Corners

NASA studied 250 sites emitting methane in the Four Corners region, including taking satellite images. (NASA)
NASA studied 250 sites emitting methane in the Four Corners region, including taking satellite images. (NASA)
August 17, 2016

DENVER - A new NASA-led study has confirmed that a 2,500-square-mile cloud of methane over the Four Corners region is largely due to oil and gas production. The hot spot, the highest concentration of heat-trapping pollution in the U.S., was first reported by NASA two years ago.

Jon Goldstein, the senior policy manager with the Environmental Defense Fund, said the study confirms data submitted by oil and gas companies to the EPA.

"It really underlines the need for strong, federal rules modeled on what Colorado has already done at the state level," he said. "The Colorado state rule has been great, but it only applies in Colorado; it doesn't apply in New Mexico or in Utah."

He said since 2014, Colorado has seen a 75 percent drop in the number of sites with gas leaks that need repairs. Industry groups say the scope of NASA's report is limited, and claim any methane pollution is offset by lower carbon emissions when natural gas is used to generate electricity. Goldstein contended that break-even point won't be reached until waste is reduced to one percent of production.

The study found half of the emissions are produced at some 25 'super-emitter' sites. Goldstein said reducing waste makes good business sense. He cited a report by ICF International, which estimated companies lost nearly $100 million of gas in 2013 through venting, flaring and leaks on federal and tribal land, in New Mexico alone.

"The good news is that you can go out with infrared cameras and inspect, and you can get these things fixed, usually pretty quickly," he explained. "Sometimes it can be as simple as turning a wrench. The problem is a serious and important one, but the solutions are stuff that we know how to do."

Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is more than 85 times more potent than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere. The EPA has set limits on methane pollution from new oil and gas sites. The Bureau of Land Management is expected to finalize rules to limit methane waste on public and tribal lands by year's end.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO