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Majority of US urban natural gas emissions unaccounted for in inventories [Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences]
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America  (IF11.205),  Pub Date : 2021-11-02, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2105804118
Maryann R. Sargent, Cody Floerchinger, Kathryn McKain, John Budney, Elaine W. Gottlieb, Lucy R. Hutyra, Joseph Rudek, Steven C. Wofsy

Across many cities, estimates of methane emissions from natural gas (NG) distribution and end use based on atmospheric measurements have generally been more than double bottom-up estimates. We present a top-down study of NG methane emissions from the Boston urban region spanning 8 y (2012 to 2020) to assess total emissions, their seasonality, and trends. We used methane and ethane observations from five sites in and around Boston, combined with a high-resolution transport model, to calculate methane emissions of 76 ± 18 Gg/yr, with 49 ± 9 Gg/yr attributed to NG losses. We found no significant trend in the NG loss rate over 8 y, despite efforts from the city and state to increase the rate of repairing NG pipeline leaks. We estimate that 2.5 ± 0.5% of the gas entering the urban region is lost, approximately three times higher than bottom-up estimates. We saw a strong correlation between top-down NG emissions and NG consumed on a seasonal basis. This suggests that consumption-driven losses, such as in transmission or end-use, may be a large component of emissions that is missing from inventories, and require future policy action. We also compared top-down NG emission estimates from six US cities, all of which indicate significant missing sources in bottom-up inventories. Across these cities, we estimate NG losses from distribution and end use amount to 20 to 36% of all losses from the US NG supply chain, with a total loss rate of 3.3 to 4.7% of NG from well pad to urban consumer, notably larger than the current Environmental Protection Agency estimate of 1.4% [R. A. Alvarez et al., Science 361, 186–188 (2018)].