Natural Gas

New Energy Technology

Estimating leakage rates of a critical energy source

Newly located natural gas (methane) resources may be able to substitute at scale for the use of coal, and in some special cases, oil. With a GHG emissions profile better than that for coal or oil, natural gas may represent an opportunity to transition to a prosperous, secure, self sufficient, lower carbon economy.

Critics of such a strategy argue that methane leakage during the production and distribution phases of natural gas significantly reduces or even eliminates life cycle emissions benefits compared to those of coal or oil.

Policymakers, the media and the public at large need credible analysis to support pending decisions and to balance what often devolves into conflicting, unsubstantiated rhetoric. Although a great deal of material exists on the subject, a comprehensive evaluation of the quality of such work had not yet been performed.

In 2013 Novim assembled a team of scientific and technical experts to analyze existing studies of the emissions profile of natural gas during the production and distribution phases, with a focus on determining a range of actual methane leakage rates. Probable causes for the leakage were included, and proposed solutions examined, along with suggestions for future analysis.

The 14 member scientific team convened at Stanford University to consider the data and prepare a summary paper. Results of this study were published in the February 14, 2014 issue of Science magazine.


Stanford’s Adam Brandt and colleagues have found that methane leakage from the US natural gas infrastructure is much higher than official estimates, a problem that can be addressed by the industry.

Phase II Sources of Leakage Disparity 

The Phase I study identified a significant difference between top-down (airborne) and bottom-up (surface measured) data, and the possibility of under-reporting of leakage by the EPA. Novim, Stanford University and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) are planning a follow-on study to attempt to economically identify and quantify the sources of this disparity.