Full Title: Timelines for Mitigating the Methane Impacts of Using Natural Gas for Carbon Dioxide Abatement
Author(s): Magdalena M. Klemun and Jessika E. Trancik
Publisher(s): Environmental Research Letters
Publication Date: December 16, 2019
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Reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions through a reliance on natural gas can create a hidden commitment to methane (CH4) leakage mitigation. While the quantity of CH4 leakage from natural gas has been studied extensively, the magnitude and timing of the CH4 mitigation required to meet climate policy goals is less well understood. Here we address this topic by examining the case of US electricity under a range of baseline natural gas leakage rate estimates and emissions equivalency metrics for converting CH4 to CO2-equivalent emissions. We find that CH4 emissions from the power sector would need to be reduced by 30%–90% from today’s levels by 2030 in order to meet a CO2-equivalent climate policy target while continuing to rely on natural gas. These CH4 emissions reductions are greater than the required CO2 reductions under the same policy. Alternatively, expanding carbon-free sources more rapidly could meet the 2030 target without reductions in natural gas leakage rates. The results provide insight on an important policy choice in regions and sectors using natural gas, between emphasizing a natural gas supply chain clean-up effort or an accelerated transition toward carbon-free energy sources.