The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) flew reconnaissance flights over major metropolitan areas on the East Coast – Boston, Providence, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. and found that those cities were emitting nearly 950,000 metric tons of methane gas into the atmosphere, which was more than twice what EPA had estimated. The Associated Press reported on the study’s surprising results have yet to be fully explained – scientists believe it is natural gas coming from leaky homes and pipes as opposed to methane gas from landfills.
Why This Matters: It is not surprising but very disappointing that we did not have this data sooner – think how much we might have kept out of the atmosphere if we had. This is why environmental monitoring and data collection is such an important government function and there ought to be more funding for it. With information, we can make adjustments and fixes – ignorance is hardly bliss when it comes to greenhouse gas pollution. The natural gas escaping is almost 10 times more than what EPA previously believed. In this day and age, with the technology we have available, that is simply unacceptable.
It’s Not a Safety Issue But It Is a Climate Problem
- The authors note that the leaks are not big enough to reach explosive concentrations – there is no immediate health or safety risk generally (though there could be exceptions out there).
- But at these levels, the amount of natural gas escaping into the atmosphere is a concern for climate change.
- This was the first study to look not just at individual cities but to look comprehensively in a large region – NOAA logged over 1200 flight hours – but it begs the question about whether the same problem or worse exists in other regions of the country.
The upside is that now that we know, the scientists believe this represents low hanging fruit in the battle against climate change – these leaks are by and large preventable.