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Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

A new study finds natural gas wells leak far less methane than worst-case estimates predicted, suggesting industry emissions indeed are low enough that burning gas instead of coal benefits the climate. It's particularly significant because the study is the result of a joint effort among nine drillers and the liberal Environmental Defense Fund.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and led by University of Texas researchers, the study of 190 onshore U.S. production sites — including wells established through hydraulic fracturing — pegs methane leakage at about 1.5 percent at most. That demolishes earlier, flawed, far higher findings and is below the 2-percent level at which industry critics say natural gas becomes a climate detriment.

The study is the first of 16 examining methane leaks at various stages of gas production, so the final verdict isn't in. But Steve Everley of the oil and gas industry website says it shows the industry's “overall emissions profile is not only low, but actually less than what even the Environmental Protection Agency had estimated.”

Mr. Everley says “activist fear-mongering about methane emissions has been exposed as fraudulent by the most comprehensive research on the subject to date,” noting that the study also “can serve as a roadmap the industry can use” to reduce emissions.

A product of industry-environmentalist cooperation, it provides common ground on which to build broader consensus favoring the expanding role that natural gas is playing in meeting energy needs.

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