Reconciling divergent estimates of oil and gas methane emissions

Daniel Zavala-Araiza, David R. Lyon, Ramón A. Alvarez, Kenneth J. Davis, Robert Harriss, Scott C. Herndon, Anna Karion, Eric Adam Kort, Brian K. Lamb, Xin Lan, Anthony J. Marchese, Stephen W. Pacala, Allen L. Robinson, Paul B. Shepson, Colm Sweeney, Robert Talbot, Amy Townsend-Small, Tara I. Yacovitc, Daniel J. Zimmerle, Steven P. Hamburg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

201 Scopus citations


Published estimates of methane emissions from atmospheric data (top-down approaches) exceed those from source-based inventories (bottom-up approaches), leading to conflicting claims about the climate implications of fuel switching from coal or petroleum to natural gas. Based on data from a coordinated campaign in the Barnett Shale oil and gas-producing region of Texas, we find that top-down and bottom-up estimates of both total and fossil methane emissions agree within statistical confidence intervals (relative differences are 10% for fossil methane and 0.1% for total methane). We reduced uncertainty in top-down estimates by using repeated mass balance measurements, as well as ethane as a fingerprint for source attribution. Similarly, our bottom-up estimate incorporates a more complete count of facilities than past inventories, which omitted a significant number of major sources, and more effectively accounts for the influence of large emission sources using a statistical estimator that integrates observations from multiple ground-based measurement datasets. Two percent of oil and gas facilities in the Barnett accounts for half of methane emissions at any given time, and high-emitting facilities appear to be spatiotemporally variable. Measured oil and gas methane emissions are 90% larger than estimates based on the US Environmental Protection Agency's Greenhouse Gas Inventory and correspond to 1.5% of natural gas production. This rate of methane loss increases the 20-y climate impacts of natural gas consumed in the region by roughly 50%.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)15597-15602
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number51
StatePublished - Dec 22 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Barnett Shale
  • Greenhouse gas footprint
  • Methane emissions
  • Natural gas supply chain
  • Oil and gas emissions


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