We use historical and new atmospheric trace gas observations to refine the estimated source of methane (CH4) 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 CH4 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 (CH4), ethane (C2H6), and carbon monoxide (CO), together with measured C2H6 to CH4 enhancement ratios in the Los Angeles natural gas supply. The observed atmospheric C2H6 to CH4 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 C2H6 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 CH4 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 C2H6 in the region. In particular, emissions of C2H6 (and CH4) 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 CH4 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.
Environmental Science and Technology; 46; 17; 9282-9289