Natural gas leaks in the greater Boston area are 2 to 3 times worse than previous estimates, according to a study led by researchers at Harvard University. The researchers found that 2.7 percent of the total natural gas distributed in the urban area, plus or minus 0.6 percent, is lost as gas leaks. Previous estimates put the figure at 1.1 percent.
The researchers continuously monitored methane emissions at four stations in the Boston area for a year, and developed a computer model to estimate emissions for the region. The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The natural gas leaks account for 60 to 100 percent of the methane released to the atmosphere in the area, depending on the season. The emissions for the year totaled 15 billion cubic feet. The study put the value of the lost gas at $90 million.
The study raises the possibility that methane emissions from natural gas distribution and use are much higher than thought for the country as a whole. The Boston Globe quoted the study’s lead researcher, Kathryn McKain, explaining that the numbers don’t add up:
If federal estimates are correct, that would mean the Boston area is contributing to 9 percent of the nation’s methane from natural gas, the authors said.
“That seems pretty impossible, and it suggests the entire national estimate is wrong,” McKain said.