Super-emitters in natural gas infrastructure are caused by abnormal process conditions

Nat Commun. 2017 Jan 16;8:14012. doi: 10.1038/ncomms14012.

Abstract

Effectively mitigating methane emissions from the natural gas supply chain requires addressing the disproportionate influence of high-emitting sources. Here we use a Monte Carlo simulation to aggregate methane emissions from all components on natural gas production sites in the Barnett Shale production region (Texas). Our total emission estimates are two-thirds of those derived from independent site-based measurements. Although some high-emitting operations occur by design (condensate flashing and liquid unloadings), they occur more than an order of magnitude less frequently than required to explain the reported frequency at which high site-based emissions are observed. We conclude that the occurrence of abnormal process conditions (for example, malfunctions upstream of the point of emissions; equipment issues) cause additional emissions that explain the gap between component-based and site-based emissions. Such abnormal conditions can cause a substantial proportion of a site's gas production to be emitted to the atmosphere and are the defining attribute of super-emitting sites.