Assessing the Methane Emissions from Natural Gas-Fired Power Plants and Oil Refineries

Environ Sci Technol. 2017 Mar 21;51(6):3373-3381. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.6b05531. Epub 2017 Mar 6.


Presently, there is high uncertainty in estimates of methane (CH4) emissions from natural gas-fired power plants (NGPP) and oil refineries, two major end users of natural gas. Therefore, we measured CH4 and CO2 emissions at three NGPPs and three refineries using an aircraft-based mass balance technique. Average CH4 emission rates (NGPPs: 140 ± 70 kg/h; refineries: 580 ± 220 kg/h, 95% CL) were larger than facility-reported estimates by factors of 21-120 (NGPPs) and 11-90 (refineries). At NGPPs, the percentage of unburned CH4 emitted from stacks (0.01-0.08%) was much lower than respective facility-scale losses (0.09-0.34%), and CH4 emissions from both NGPPs and refineries were more strongly correlated with enhanced H2O concentrations (R2avg = 0.65) than with CO2 (R2avg = 0.21), suggesting noncombustion-related equipment as potential CH4 sources. Additionally, calculated throughput-based emission factors (EF) derived from the NGPP measurements made in this study were, on average, a factor of 4.4 (stacks) and 37 (facility-scale) larger than industry-used EFs. Subsequently, throughput-based EFs for both the NGPPs and refineries were used to estimate total U.S. emissions from these facility-types. Results indicate that NGPPs and oil refineries may be large sources of CH4 emissions and could contribute significantly (0.61 ± 0.18 Tg CH4/yr, 95% CL) to U.S. emissions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants
  • Aircraft
  • Methane*
  • Natural Gas*
  • Power Plants


  • Air Pollutants
  • Natural Gas
  • Methane