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Natural gas wells leakier than believed

Measurements at Colorado site show methane release higher than previous estimates

11:09am, February 16, 2012

Wells that pump natural gas from the ground in Colorado have leaked about twice as much gas into the atmosphere as previously thought, a new study finds.

That could tarnish gas’s image as clean source of energy. Natural gas, made mostly of methane, does give off less carbon dioxide than coal when burned. But methane itself strongly warms the atmosphere, which means even relatively small releases can have a big impact on the climate.

“We’re seeing raw natural gas in the atmosphere,” says Gabrielle Pétron, an atmospheric scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Colorado Boulder. Her team reports the new findings, based on data gathered in 2007 and 2008, in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research.

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