Methane: Climate enemy no. 1. On EPA’s emissions-reductions watch list

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.

GasDepositDiagram[1]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-reductions 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.”

Image of “Schematic geology of natural gas resources” above: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Post updated Jan. 20, 2015 at 4:44 p.m. P.S.T.

4 thoughts on “Methane: Climate enemy no. 1. On EPA’s emissions-reductions watch list

  1. We know CO2 is held in cold water, the colder the water the more CO2 is held. Heating water releases this gas, so how on earth can CO2 also be responsible for heating? This requires the reversing of a cause and its effect which is neither scientific or logical.

    With Methane the claim is made that it stores heat. I assume we have experimental data to prove this is in any way meaningful to Climate Variations? Methane is an energy source, burn it and its energy is converted to heat and light. Methane as a gas is a store like wood, coal or oil. Just potential energy waiting to be converted.

    Water is probably the largest heat store on our planet, slow to heat up and slow to release this heat. In the atmosphere water vapour clouds act as an insulator in both directions. No cloud the Earth heats quickly and loses it the same way. With cloud cover it heats more slowly and the insulation slows the heat loss by radiation also.

    The only source of energy is the Sun, nowhere else matters. What arrives here is transient in the main, some is stored in plant life. As this decays, or gets burnt it releases energy back into space.

    If Man contributes? It can only be by storing and releasing what all of what comes from the Sun in the first place.

  2. Even without the increase in US oil and gas production, reducing methane emissions from this sector is a no-brainer to me because most of these emissions are nothing other than money down the drain for the industry as a whole. Yes, no one wants to have to pay for fixing leaky pipes or reworking files so that they are tighter but in the long run, doing so is going to be a boon for the industry as it will reduce waste and therefore improve profits for drillers.

    • It is established beyond any doubt that all energy in our Solar System originated with our Sun, some small amounts of this energy are found converted and stored on Earth. Most of it is latent heat in Oceans and Land Masses, some is stored longer term as oil, coal, plants, including wood. Man has found these sources useful in furthering his puny technologies. Once man has used this stored energy it’s converted into heat, and eventually re-radiated back into Space. All energy on this planet is transient over the longer term. Heat energy is found whenever any masses temperature is above absolute zero. Ice contains heat, and that is a hard truth for most of us to contemplate.

      The Planet re-radiates most of its daily incoming heat at lower frequencies than the original source the Sun. Clouds (water vapor) insulate us from some of the Sun’s heat, this also conserves heat resulting in some temperate zones. This works more or less equally with both incoming and outgoing energy.

      Eventually every bit of the Suns energy will be exhausted, the Earth will also have given up its energy, radiated back into space. Quite egalitarian in a way, all energy will thus be shared equally throughout the Universe as it finally dies.

      IF this Planet’s climate has been changing one should indeed ask,” What happened”? The answer to all variations must be tied to Sun spot activity and variations in its radiated energy. Chasing false theories that need to be evermore complicated is a fools journey.

      This is how I see the energy system works, I welcome comment and logical correction within the laws of physics, not emotion please.

  3. Given the historical and current correlation of escaping methane with extreme weather and the impacts (drought, raging forest fires, crop and cattle devastation) dating back to the Great Dust Bowl coincident with methane power gushers in the Kilgore Texas area, and given the massive leaks in New Mexico, Utah and Colorado that appear to be encouraged by state governors regardless of using proper controls and regulation that the industry recommends, why not immediately reverse the deregulation for “first come first served” gas pipeline access (so called “Open Access,” created during the Reagan years and certainly not appropriate now when we need modern new pipelines) and move to “Priority Access” so pipeline owners can avoid giving access to the bad actors that do not properly contain during fly by night cheapest way possible production that destabilizes prices and disrupts cloud formation causing the extreme weather?

Leave a Comment