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Shale gas methane leakage 'seriously overestimated': UK think tank

London — Previous estimates of methane leakage in shale gas production have been "seriously over-estimated," according to a report released Monday by British free-market policy think tank the Centre for Policy Studies.

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Methane, the main component of natural gas, has a high greenhouse potential, and opponents argue that even if one or two percent of the gas leaks, the advantage of natural gas over coal would be negated, it said.

"This estimate is incorrect; over a 100-year time span, an implausible 12% of the produced natural gas used today would have to leak in order to negate an advantage over coal," the report said.

"The best current estimates for the average leakage across the whole supply chain are below 3%; even at 3% leakage natural gas would produce less than half the warming of coal averaged over the 100 years following emission," it said.

The UK shale gas industry has struggled to get off the ground despite strong support from the current Conservative Party government.

The Centre for Policy Studies, which was co-founded by former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1974, said, "there is a concern, held by many thoughtful people and others, that the danger of fugitive methane is a compelling reason to stop all development of shale gas."

"Another way of thinking about the same issue is to ask how much better is natural gas than coal at certain leakage rates, and over certain timeframes."

The report is authored by Richard Muller, professor of physics at the University of California, and his daughter Elizabeth Muller, who together founded Berkeley Earth in 2010, a non-profit organization focused on climate change.

--Nathan Richardson,
--Edited by Alisdair Bowles,