Climatic Change

, Volume 133, Issue 2, pp 169–178 | Cite as

Effect of methane leakage on the greenhouse gas footprint of electricity generation

  • Nicolas SanchezII
  • David C. MaysEmail author


For the purpose of generating electricity, what leakage rate renders the greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint of natural gas equivalent to that of coal? This paper answers this question using a simple model, which assumes that the comprehensive GHG footprint is the sum of the carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions resulting from (1) electricity generation and (2) natural gas leakage. The emissions resulting from electricity generation are taken from published life-cycle assessments (LCAs), whereas the emissions from natural gas leakage are estimated assuming that natural gas is 80 % methane, whose global warming potential (GWP) is calculated using equations provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Results, presented on a straightforward plot of GHG footprint versus time horizon, show that natural gas leakage of 2.0 % or 4.8 % eliminates half of natural gas’s GHG footprint advantage over coal at 20- or 100-year time horizons, respectively. Leakage of 3.9 % or 9.1 % completely eliminates the GHG footprint advantage at 20- and 100-year time horizons, respectively. A two-parameter power law approximation of the IPCC’s equation for GWP is utilized and gives equivalent results. Results indicate that leakage control is essential for natural gas to deliver a smaller GHG footprint than coal.


Time Horizon Methane Emission Global Warming Potential Methane Leakage Leakage Estimate 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The authors thank Indrani Pal for reviewing a preliminary draft of this paper, and three anonymous referees whose feedback helped to improve the clarity and rigor of the presentation.


NS developed the model, derived the equations, and created Figs. 2 and 3. DCM updated these results using the most recent IPCC report, created Fig. 1, and drafted the paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Civil EngineeringUniversity of Colorado DenverDenverUSA
  2. 2.Geo-Solutions Inc.LakewoodUSA

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