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We use historical and new atmospheric trace gas observations to refine the estimated source of methane (CH(4)) emitted into California's South Coast Air Basin (the larger Los Angeles metropolitan region). Referenced to the California Air Resources Board (CARB) CO emissions inventory, total CH(4) emissions are 0.44 ± 0.15 Tg each year. To investigate the possible contribution of fossil fuel emissions, we use ambient air observations of methane (CH(4)), ethane (C(2)H(6)), and carbon monoxide (CO), together with measured C(2)H(6) to CH(4) enhancement ratios in the Los Angeles natural gas supply. The observed atmospheric C(2)H(6) to CH(4) ratio during the ARCTAS (2008) and CalNex (2010) aircraft campaigns is similar to the ratio of these gases in the natural gas supplied to the basin during both these campaigns. Thus, at the upper limit (assuming that the only major source of atmospheric C(2)H(6) is fugitive emissions from the natural gas infrastructure) these data are consistent with the attribution of most (0.39 ± 0.15 Tg yr(-1)) of the excess CH(4) in the basin to uncombusted losses from the natural gas system (approximately 2.5-6% of natural gas delivered to basin customers). However, there are other sources of C(2)H(6) in the region. In particular, emissions of C(2)H(6) (and CH(4)) from natural gas seeps as well as those associated with petroleum production, both of which are poorly known, will reduce the inferred contribution of the natural gas infrastructure to the total CH(4) emissions, potentially significantly. This study highlights both the value and challenges associated with the use of ethane as a tracer for fugitive emissions from the natural gas production and distribution system.


Paul O Wennberg, Wilton Mui, Debra Wunch, Eric A Kort, Donald R Blake, Elliot L Atlas, Gregory W Santoni, Steven C Wofsy, Glenn S Diskin, Seongeun Jeong, Marc L Fischer. On the sources of methane to the Los Angeles atmosphere. Environmental science & technology. 2012 Sep 4;46(17):9282-9

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PMID: 22853880

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