On the sources of methane to the Los Angeles atmosphere

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Scopus citations


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 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 (CH4), ethane (C2H6), and carbon monoxide (CO), together with measured C2H6 to CH 4 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 C 2H6 in the region. In particular, emissions of C 2H6 (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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9282-9289
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 4 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry


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