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

Lavoie, Tegan N., Shepson, Paul B., Gore, Chloe A., Stirm, Brian H., Kaeser, Robert, Wulle, Bernard, Lyon, David, Rudek, Joseph
Environmental Science & Technology 2017 v.51 no.6 pp. 3373-3381
carbon dioxide, emissions factor, equipment, greenhouse gas emissions, methane, natural gas, oils, power plants, uncertainty, United States
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 (0.01–0.14%) was much lower than respective facility-scale losses (0.10–0.42%), 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 42 (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.