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Over half of the energy today in the United States comes from fossil fuels (~60%), with natural gas representing about 40% of our energy generation and coal representing approximately 20%. The remainder of the electric grid is sourced from renewable sources, like solar, wind, hydroelectric dams, geothermal, hydrogen, and nuclear energy.

Typical estimates of the carbon footprint of today’s energy supply chain only take direct emissions from energy generation into account and not the energy involved in the extraction and transportation of that fuel. In the world of sustainability and carbon accounting, the emissions generated from fossil fuel combustion (i.e., burning fuel to generate electricity) are direct emissions. Emissions that exist outside of the actual power plant are called indirect emissions. Direct emissions in power plants have long been measurable thanks to devices called Continuous Emissions Monitoring System (CEMS), installed directly in the smokestacks or “stacks” where energy generation occurs.

By contrast, indirect emissions are much harder to quantify, and, as recent studies have suggested, they’re also under-estimated. This discrepancy is because these emissions are estimated rather than directly measured. Estimates don’t often match up with actual measurements, sometimes by a little and sometimes by orders of magnitude.

Our analysis shows that these emissions matter: depending on the amount of methane leaked in the supply chain, indirect emissions can be a significant fraction of the total carbon footprint of the energy supply chain. If independent measurements from some basins are correct, then natural gas sourced from these measurements generates nearly ⅓ of its carbon footprint before any energy is ever generated.

energy supply chain leak-rate

The impact of fugitive emissions (light green) on the overall carbon footprint (each circle) is significant. These pie charts show what portion of the carbon footprint of natural gas electric generation, including combustion, is caused by upstream fugitive emissions at various upstream leak rates. At the highest high leak rates, fugitive emissions can be nearly one third of the overall greenhouse gas footprint.

Caption: The impact of fugitive emissions (light green) on the overall carbon footprint (each circle) is significant. These pie charts show what portion of the carbon footprint of natural gas electric generation, including combustion, is caused by upstream fugitive emissions at various upstream leak rates.  At the highest high leak rates, fugitive emissions can be nearly one third of the overall greenhouse gas footprint.

Our analysis also matches up with other recent studies (e.g., ACS Sustainable Chem. Eng. 2021, 9, 32, 10857–10867, August 3, 2021), finding that upstream emissions account for 8-18% of the overall carbon footprint and that halving methane emissions can reduce the carbon footprint of energy generation by nearly one quarter (25%).

As we rush to lessen the impact of energy on the environment, getting the numbers right has never been more critical.

At Project Canary, our answer is to measure directly and not estimate the carbon footprint of the energy supply chain. We’re connecting the supply chain with measurements while also ensuring that operational excellence is achieved along the supply chain through meticulous measurement and certification.

Here are a few examples of how this can work:

  • Xcel energy: Xcel recently announced they would buy responsibly sourced gas from Project Canary’s customer, Crestone Peak. This partnership program helps ensure that the gas that makes it to Xcel’s customers meets the highest environmental standards.
  • Colorado Springs: Colorado Springs Utilities will purchase certified RSG produced by Bayswater Exploration & Production. The certified RSG will be gathered and processed by Rimrock Energy Partners (a provider of midstream services in the DJ Basin) before being delivered to Colorado Interstate Gas Company, a Kinder Morgan, Inc. subsidiary, which will transport the certified RSG to Colorado Springs Utilities.
  • Tallgrass: Tallgrass Energy Partners will begin monitoring emissions on its REX pipeline, making it the first U.S. company to measure and certify the environmental impact of operations on an interstate natural gas pipeline.

Project Canary is working to build a world in which energy molecules can be certified from tip-to-tip, all the way from the well to your stove at home. Ensuring best environmental practices at every step of the energy value chain brings us one step closer to this vision. Join us and reduce the carbon footprint of your energy.