No one really knows how much better natural gas is compared to coal, greenhouse-gas wise. That’s because no one knows how much natural gas leaks into the atmosphere during production and distribution. Although burning natural gas releases something like half the amount of carbon dioxide as burning coal, leaks of natural gas can offset that advantage since natural gas contains methane, itself a powerful greenhouse gas.
This week, the World Resources Institute released a new report on natural gas leaks. Here’s how the Washington Post summarizes it:
The bad news: We have no idea how much methane is actually seeping out of our natural-gas wells and pipelines. The good news: The technologies to plug those leaks are readily available, but new regulations may be necessary to make sure they’re widely adopted.
Multiple studies are now underway trying to address the bad news by quantifying leaks. The World Resources study suggests that whatever those studies find, several measures that can reduce leaks should be employed simply because they make economic sense, paying for themselves through reduced waste in just three years. According to WRI, “Using plunger lift systems, switching the existing stock of high-bleed pneumatic devices to low-bleed equivalents, and using methane leak detection and repair technologies at processing plants and compressor stations can reduce emissions by another 30 percent, bringing the overall leakage rate down to just over 1 percent.” That’s low enough to ensure natural gas is better than coal.
10 Breakthrough Technologies 2024
Every year, we look for promising technologies poised to have a real impact on the world. Here are the advances that we think matter most right now.
AI for everything: 10 Breakthrough Technologies 2024
Generative AI tools like ChatGPT reached mass adoption in record time, and reset the course of an entire industry.
Scientists are finding signals of long covid in blood. They could lead to new treatments.
Faults in a certain part of the immune system might be at the root of some long covid cases, new research suggests.
What’s next for AI in 2024
Our writers look at the four hot trends to watch out for this year
Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review
Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.