A new analysis published in Science today concludes that more methane is leaking from natural gas wells and pipelines than the federal government has estimated, eroding some of the climate benefits of the cleaner-burning fuel.

The sixteen researchers — from Stanford, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, University of Michigan, MIT and elsewhere — reviewed more than 200 studies estimating how much methane, a potent greenhouse gas, escapes into the atmosphere. The panel concludes that actual methane emissions are 25 to 75 percent higher than the estimates published by the Environmental Protection Agency's national Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks. 

That said, the ability of natural gas to help reduce emissions of the greenhouse gases (GHGs) responsible for climate change hinges on the sector in which it used: the ongoing shift from coal to natural gas in the electric power sector continues to have "robust climate benefits" the authors conclude, while using natural gas as a transportation fuel in place of diesel or gasoline is more suspect.