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Reversal of global atmospheric ethane and propane trends largely due to US oil and natural gas production

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Author(s)

  • Detlev Helmig
  • Samuel Rossabi
  • Jacques Hueber
  • Pieter Tans
  • Stephen A. Montzka
  • Ken Masarie
  • Kirk Thoning
  • C Plass-Duelmer
  • Anja Claude
  • Shalini Punjabi
  • Stefan Reimann
  • Martin K. Vollmer
  • Rainer Steinbrecher
  • James W. Hannigan
  • Louisa K. Emmons
  • Emmanuel Mahieu
  • Bruno Franco
  • Dan Smale
  • Andrea Pozzer

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Publication details

JournalNature Geoscience
DateAccepted/In press - 22 Apr 2016
DateE-pub ahead of print - 13 Jun 2016
DatePublished (current) - 29 Jun 2016
Issue number7
Volume9
Number of pages6
Pages (from-to)490–495
Early online date13/06/16
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Non-methane hydrocarbons such as ethane are important precursors to tropospheric ozone and aerosols. Using data from a global surface network and atmospheric column observations we show that the steady decline in the ethane mole fraction that began in the 1970s halted between 2005 and 2010 in most of the Northern Hemisphere and has since reversed. We calculate a yearly increase in ethane emissions in the Northern Hemisphere of 0.42 (±0.19) Tg yr -1 between mid-2009 and mid-2014. The largest increases in ethane and the shorter-lived propane are seen over the central and eastern USA, with a spatial distribution that suggests North American oil and natural gas development as the primary source of increasing emissions. By including other co-emitted oil and natural gas non-methane hydrocarbons, we estimate a Northern Hemisphere total non-methane hydrocarbon yearly emission increase of 1.2 (±0.8) Tg yr -1. Atmospheric chemical transport modelling suggests that these emissions could augment summertime mean surface ozone by several nanomoles per mole near oil and natural gas production regions. Methane/ethane oil and natural gas emission ratios could suggest a significant increase in associated methane emissions; however, this increase is inconsistent with observed leak rates in production regions and changes in methane's global isotopic ratio.

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