CSU researchers track nationwide methane emissions

Jessie Trudell

Colorado State researchers are becoming methane monitors.

The group is attempting to pinpoint key contributors to methane emissions across the country by investigating the level of methane gas released nationally, through the storage and transmission of natural gases.


Anthony Marchese, a CSU professor of mechanical engineering and a key researcher in the study, said the process of the study was daunting but important.

“The main goal of the study was to try to monitor methane emissions from two different natural gas sectors,” Marchese said. “We went to 130 facilities throughout the U.S., and measured the total methane emissions at each one of the natural gas facilities.”

The results of the study were recently published in the journal of Environmental Science and Technology.

“One of the main goals was to get the information out there to the public as soon as possible because it’s a very important issue,” Marchese said. “We’re happy that our papers were published to get the word out there.”

Daniel Zimmerle, a senior researcher at the CSU Energy Institute, led the research study. He believes this is the most comprehensive field study regarding methane emissions from activities related to the transfer and storage of natural gases.

Zimmerle also commented on the importance of the publication on the measurements taken while in the field. Wide variations of methane gas levels were found in emissions from natural gas gathering facilities and processing plants across the country.

“Right now, we’re taking the results and comparing the experimental data from all of these field experiments,” Marchese said. “What we’re doing next is creating a model to scale the entire U.S., because we really want to know what exact percentage of methane leaks when we take gas from a well to everyday use.”

Marchese said the field results might contribute to tightening laws surrounding natural gas facilities. According to Marchese, many gas emissions are unregulated and a fair amount of methane gas is released into the atmosphere as a result.

“What we’re finding is that there is a fair amount of methane leaking out from these facilities,” Marchese said. “If we determine that the exact leakage rate is high enough, we can use our data to back pushing regulations to limit those emissions.”

Richard Conant, CSU professor of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability, offered information regarding the potential dangers methane gas emissions can create.


“Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas,” Conant said. “Each molecule of methane is about 20 to 25 times (as potent) as a molecule of carbon dioxide.”

According to Conant, the role of methane as a greenhouse gas is its most substantial impact within the atmosphere. Because it is a greenhouse gas, it could potentially contribute to the occurrence of global warming. However, methane does not currently seem to be of major concern in regards to its overall impact once emitted.

“In low concentrations, as in the atmosphere, methane has no effect on human health,” Conant said. “(Methane) is reactive and is integral to some ecosystem processes.”

The current focus of the study is to complete the scale modeling of the collected data, according to Marchese.

“We need to make sure as a society that the overall emissions are close to 1 percent, or as low as possible,” Marchese said.

Collegian Reporter Jessie Trudell can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @JessieTrudell