Addressing methane leakage is key in getting sustained climate benefits from natural gas

There has been much debate about the climate implications of increased natural gas usage. While it is true that natural gas burns cleaner than other fossil fuels, (the carbon dioxide per unit of energy may be around half that of coal), methane leaking during the production, delivery and use of natural gas has the potential to undo much of the greenhouse gas benefits we think we’re getting when natural gas is substituted for other fuels. The good news is that leaks can be detected, measured and reduced. Jonathan Camuzeaux, Senior Economic Analyst at Environmental Defense Fund, will present lessons learnt from EDF’s work in the U.S. and potential implications for Tanzania at the EfD Policy Day.

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has been leading both research and advocacy efforts in the United States to better understand and reduce the impacts of methane leakage. Lessons learnt in the U.S. are highly relevant to Tanzania, a country with significant newly discovered natural gas resources.

Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is a powerful, short-lived greenhouse gas.  It is about 120 times more potent at trapping energy than carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal contributor to man-made climate change. However it does not last very long in the atmosphere compared to carbon dioxide which makes the comparison quite complicated – and time dependent. When considering its conversion to carbon dioxide over time its impact on an integrated weight basis is 84 times more potent after 20 years and 28 times more potent after 100 years. 

The problem starts when unburned gas gets into the atmosphere. Leaks and releases occur throughout the natural gas supply chain. If not better mitigated, methane leaks and releases could undermine the greenhouse gas advantage natural gas offers and spell major trouble for the climate.

Because natural gas leaking to the atmosphere means losing fuel that could otherwise be used to produce energy and therefore create revenue, there is a strong economic incentive to control leakage. A study commissioned by EDF has shown that methane leakage in the U.S. can be addressed at very low costs. This is good news for a country new to natural gas, such as Tanzania. Indeed, it is reasonable to assume it would be even cheaper to build the infrastructure in a way that minimizes methane leakage early on than it is to go back and fix infrastructure that has been in place for decades, like in the U.S..

The exploitation of Tanzania’s newly discovered gas reserves will certainly be a win-win for the country: a win for its energy needs and a win for its economy. To make sure the country maximizes the resource’s benefits while guaranteeing sustained benefits to the climate, the country has the opportunity to learn from other countries’ mistakes and deal with methane leakage early on. This can be done by requesting that natural gas companies operating in Tanzania use best practices to measure, report and reduce leakage across the supply chain.

For more information please contact : Jonathan Camuzeaux, Senior Economic Analyst, Office of Economic Policy and Analysis, Environmental Defense Fund, 257 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10010,
Phone: +1 (212) 616-1271: email:;

News | 20 October 2014