New estimates from the EPA indicate that methane leakage from natural gas production is substantially lower than previously believed. Or, translated to English: Natural gas may be a better solution to rampant global warming than anyone believed.
The recent boom in natural gas production — largely a function of improvements in the process of hydrofracturing, or fracking — has been seen as a mixed blessing by environmentalists focused on curbing the atmospheric warming created by greenhouse gases. On one hand, more natural gas extraction has led to lower natural gas prices, which has led to increased use of natural gas in electricity generation, which has led to lower emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, since natural gas burns more cleanly than coal. On the other hand, natural gas is comprised mostly of methane, a gas that is 21 times better at trapping atmospheric heat than carbon dioxide. When natural gas is produced, some of it escapes. If the amount that escapes is significant enough, the anti-warming benefit of adding less carbon dioxide to the atmosphere could be offset by adding a smaller amount of methane. That's the argument that was made by 350.org's Bill McKibben, a prominent environmental activist, last year.
For years, environmental groups were torn on the merits of natural gas as what was called a "bridge fuel," a way to ease from heavy-carbon dioxide producing energy systems to clean, renewable ones. At one time, the Sierra Club advocated for increased use of natural gas; the Environmental Defense Fund (with an economic push from Michael Bloomberg) similarly pushes for increased gas use.