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New study shows American wells leak triple the amount of gas as previously stated — and it's costing us

Researchers analyzed measurements taken by aircraft flying over oil and gas sites across the country.

Researchers analyzed measurements taken by aircraft flying over oil and gas sites across the country.

Photo Credit: iStock

A new study conducted by the International Energy Agency has found that methane pollution from U.S. oil and gas wells may be much higher than previously estimated.

The amount of this powerful heat-trapping gas could be three times greater than official government figures, the Guardian says.

What's happening?

Researchers analyzed 1 million measurements taken by aircraft flying over oil and gas sites across the country. They determined that about 3% of the natural gas produced in the U.S. is escaping into the atmosphere.

That's a staggering 6.2 million tons of methane leaking every hour during the daytime. This wasted gas is worth around $1 billion per year. But the true cost is even higher when you consider the damage to our atmosphere.

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The study covered over half of all American oil wells and nearly a third of the nation's total gas production and delivery infrastructure. While more research is needed to calculate a precise national average, the 3% leak rate was consistent across the six regions examined.

Why are methane leaks concerning?

Methane is a potent gas that traps 80 times more heat than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.

All that extra methane spewing into the air is costing us $9.3 billion in climate damage each year, the International Energy Agency says. And it's not just the planet that suffers — methane leaks threaten public health.

Cutting methane pollution is one of the quickest, most cost-effective ways to slow rising global temperatures and protect our communities from climate disruptions. By wasting less gas, we can also save energy and money.

What's being done about methane leaks?

The good news is that most of these emissions are coming from a small number of "super-emitter" sites. In fact, just 1% of oil and gas facilities are responsible for roughly half of the leaking methane.

That means we have a huge opportunity to make rapid progress by targeting the worst offenders first. The Biden administration recently enacted stronger rules requiring the oil and gas industry to plug its methane leaks.

Major companies have also pledged to dramatically reduce methane pollution and end routine gas flaring by 2030. Experts say if the industry follows through, it could prevent nearly 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit of future global warming.

While fighting methane leaks is crucial, it's just one piece of the puzzle. Each of us can help speed the transition to a cleaner future in our own lives, too.

Simple steps like choosing electric appliances like induction stoves over gas, conserving energy at home, and supporting businesses that cut pollution add up. When we work together, there's no limit to the positive change we can achieve.

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