Colorado State University Researchers Measuring Methane Emissions from Natural Gas Transmission

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Colorado State University’s Engines and Energy Conversion Lab is leading a nationwide field study to quantify methane emissions associated with the transmission and storage of natural gas through the nation’s interstate natural gas pipeline system and storage facilities. This month, a team led by Bryan Willson, CSU mechanical engineering professor, and researcher Dan Zimmerle will begin collecting data from potential methane sources in natural gas transmission, including compressor stations and underground storage facilities.

“The primary component of natural gas, methane, is a greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide when released into the atmosphere uncombusted,” Willson said. “So, understanding how much methane leaks at various points along the supply chain, including the transmission and storage segment, is critical to discerning the potential of natural gas to offer climate benefits in various fuel-switching scenarios.”

In the U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory Report, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the natural gas industry accounts for 25 percent of U.S. methane emissions, with transmission and storage accounting for 30 percent of this quantity (i.e., 7.5 percent of the U.S. total).

“This study will provide an additional, independent assessment for the transmission and storage sector that can be linked to other studies to allow an accurate, impartial, peer-reviewed and scientifically published estimate of leakage throughout the entire ‘well-to-burner tip’ supply chain,” Willson said.

Results are expected to be released the first half of 2014 and will help better define a national methane emissions rate for U.S. transmission and storage systems. The CSU Engines and Energy Conversion Lab is one of the largest independent engine testing laboratories of its kind in the world.

Carnegie Mellon University’s Allen Robinson is leading the testing teams with URS and Aerodyne Research. Sponsors include Environmental Defense Fund, CenterPoint Energy Gas Transmission, Dow Chemical, Dominion, The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, Kinder Morgan, TransCanada and Williams. The pipeline operators — CenterPoint Energy Gas Transmission, Dominion, Kinder Morgan, TransCanada, and Williams — are providing access to their gas facilities and equipment for tests in different regions throughout the country.

The CSU study is part of a two-year effort in which the Environmental Defense Fund and the natural gas industry are funding more independent academic research with a stated mission of more fully characterizing methane emissions from the production, transmission and storage, gathering and processing, local distribution, and end-use of natural gas.

To quantify how much methane is released into the atmosphere from transmission and storage facilities, the study will evaluate existing data and take additional measurements throughout the summer and fall of 2013.

Measurements taken by the research team will be primarily focused on compressor stations and underground storage facilities, and will consist of downwind tracer gas measurements paired with simultaneous source-by-source measurements.

Companies will also provide emissions and operating data from previous methane measurements. The total data set, including the measurements from the CSU team, will then be used in a model to estimate transmission and storage methane emissions in the United States.

A scientific advisory panel composed of professors and experts in the fields relevant to the study will serve as independent advisors reviewing the appropriateness of the methodologies, the model, statistical methods, and study results.

To see Bryan Willson’s bio, go to