The climate-change argument – whether it’s a hoax or whether it’s real – is far from settled. For some, they’re just not buying the whole warming-world premise. Others, meanwhile, will swear up-and-down climate change is real and human activity is what’s driving it.
Irrespective of how people feel about a changing climate, as for greenhouse gases, no question those are real – six of them in all, in fact: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), hydrofluorocarbons (HFC), nitrous oxides (N2O), perfluorocarbons (PFC) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). By far CO2 is the most pronounced of the grouping and, incidentally, is purported to be the principal contributing cause behind the global rise in temperature. Some claim that isn’t happening either.
In turning attention now to methane, as a greenhouse gas, compared to carbon dioxide, CH4’s ability to absorb and retain the sun’s heat is far, far greater making it way more effective as a heat sink.
Using the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) method as a way to extract oil from subsurface oil-shale deposits is one of the more common methods employed in reaching that end. Quite common at many a drilling site is the release of natural gas. The word “flaring” is applied to describe the process of the gas being lit on fire.
In one way related to the above, in the Jan. 14, 2015 news release: “FACT SHEET: Administration Takes Steps Forward on Climate Action Plan by Announcing Actions to Cut Methane Emissions,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced:
“The Obama Administration is committed to taking responsible steps to address climate change and help ensure a cleaner, more stable environment for future generations. As part of that effort, today, the Administration is announcing a new goal to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 – 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025, and a set of actions to put the U.S. on a path to achieve this ambitious goal.
“U.S. oil production is at the highest level in nearly 30 years, providing important energy security and economic benefits. The U.S. is also now the largest natural gas producer in the world, providing an abundant source of clean-burning fuel to power and heat American homes and businesses. Continuing to rely on these domestic energy resources is a critical element of the President’s energy strategy. At the same time, methane – the primary component of natural gas – is a potent greenhouse gas, with 25 times the heat-trapping potential of carbon dioxide over a 100-year period.”
EPA goes on to point out here, the pollutant methane (CH4) is not nearly as long-lasting in the atmosphere as is carbon dioxide (CO2).
Moreover, according to the federal regulatory agency, in 2012, methane accounted for almost a tenth of all GHGs in the U.S., almost three-tenths of which is from oil and natural gas production, conveyance and distribution. Oil- and gas-sector emissions since 1990 are down 16 percent, but over the next 10 years are projected to jump more than a quarter if further emissions-mitigating measures are not advanced.
“The steps announced today are also a sound economic and public health strategy because reducing methane emissions means capturing valuable fuel that is otherwise wasted and reducing other harmful pollutants – a win for public health and the economy,” the EPA in the release went on to state. “Achieving the Administration’s goal would save up to 180 billion cubic feet of natural gas in 2025, enough to heat more than 2 million homes for a year and continue to support businesses that manufacture and sell cost-effective technologies to identify, quantify, and reduce methane emissions.”
What the program entails
Outlined in the release are methane emissions-reduction actions, such as:
- Propose and Set Commonsense Standards for Methane and Ozone-Forming Emissions from New and Modified Sources
- New Guidelines to Reduce Volatile Organic Compounds
- Consider Enhancing Leak Detection and Emissions Reporting
- Reduce Methane Emissions while Improving Pipeline Safety
- Drive Technology to Reduce Natural Gas Losses and Improve Emissions Quantification
- Modernize Natural Gas Transmission and Distribution Infrastructure
- Release a Quadrennial Energy Review (QER)
“Fully attaining the Administration’s goal will require additional action, particularly with respect to existing sources of methane emissions. Several voluntary industry efforts to address these sources are underway, including EPA’s plans to expand on the successful Natural Gas STAR program by launching a new partnership in collaboration with key stakeholders later in 2015. EPA will work with DOE [Department of Energy], DOT [Department of Transportation], and leading companies, individually and through broader initiatives such as the One Future Initiative and the Downstream Initiative, to develop and verify robust commitments to reduce methane emissions. This new effort will encourage innovation, provide accountability and transparency, and track progress toward specific methane emission reduction activities and goals to reduce methane leakage across the natural gas value chain.”
This post has been updated.
Image of “Schematic geology of natural gas resources” above: U.S. Energy Information Administration