Natural Gas Industry Has Little Effect on Global Temperatures, Study Finds

Published March 22, 2018

Methane emissions from the oil and natural gas sector have a much smaller effect on atmospheric temperatures than previously thought, a new study from the Gas Technology Institute’s Center for Methane Research (CMR) reports.

CMR calculates all atmospheric methane contributed just 16.7 percent of global radiative forcing in 2016. Radiative forcing is the capacity of different factors to affect the energy balance of the Earth and potentially contribute to atmospheric warming or cooling.

Using data from the Global Carbon Project (GCP), CMR estimates 52.5 percent of annual worldwide methane emissions are the result of human activities, including fossil fuel production and use, agriculture, and emissions from landfills. Applying this percentage to estimates from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Annual Greenhouse Gas Index (AGGI) for the radiative impact of atmospheric methane, CMR determined methane emissions from all human activities contributed about 8.8 percent of the effect on the earth’s energy balance in 2016.

GCP calculates global methane emissions solely from fossil fuel use contribute approximately 18.8 percent of total annual methane emissions. Multiplying this by NOAA’s AGGI percentage for methane radiative forcing, CMR found global methane emissions from fossil fuel activities contributed only about 3.1 percent of radiative forcing in 2016.

CMR found the U.S. natural gas industry contributed 1.2 percent of worldwide annual methane emissions, amounting to just 0.2 percent of radiative forcing in 2016, using the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) estimates of U.S. gas industry emissions. 

U.S. Methane Emissions Falling

With methane emissions from U.S. oil and gas operations having declined sharply in recent years, the CMR findings are not surprising, says Timothy Benson, a policy analyst at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News.

“The most recent data from EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory show methane emissions from oil and natural gas systems declined by 1.5 percent between 2015 and 2016 and have decreased by close to 15 percent since 1990,” Benson said. “Data shows methane emissions from natural gas operations alone have decreased more than 16 percent since 1990.

“This occurred while natural gas production in the United States increased by 50 percent and oil production increased by more than 20 percent,” Benson said. “The United States is leading the industrialized world in greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and in no way, shape, or form is fossil fuel production intensifying or accelerating climate change.”

The lesson from this development, Benson says, is that governments should not place stricter restrictions on the production and use of oil and gas.

“People should remember these figures before they call for increased regulations limiting, or bans on, oil and gas production,” Benson said.

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.


“Contributory Role of Atmospheric Methane and the Natural Gas Industry on Global Warming Radiative Forcing,” Center for Methane Research, February 14, 2018:–and-the-natural-gas-industry-on-global-warming-radiative-forcing