Methane: The little-known contributor to climate change
Carbon dioxide, or CO2, is the gas we hear most about, but it isn't the only dangerous greenhouse gas. Methane emissions can also cause significant damage to the atmosphere. EDF Chief Scientist Steve Hamburg was among the first to realize the danger of increasing methane emissions coming from the growing natural gas industry, and urged that we work on reducing methane emissions to help slow the rate of climate change.
Much more potent than CO2
Methane is the primary component of natural gas, which, when burned, emits less CO2 than coal. But unburned — when it is vented or leaked directly into the atmosphere — methane is far more potent than we had even realized, as much as 84 to 87 times more potent than CO2 on a 20-year basis, according to new projections by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
By emitting just a little bit of methane, we're greatly accelerating the rate of climatic change.Steve Hamburg EDF Chief Scientist
A big problem calls for big collaboration
With U.S. natural gas production three times as high as it was in 2005, the climate risk from methane emissions is even more important to address. And without extensively studying the problem, finding and fixing leaks and vents will just get harder. We need better information about where the system is vulnerable; and that means getting an up close look at natural gas facilities and equipment across the entire supply chain.
By working with nine major natural gas producers, University of Texas at Austin secured access right at the source — on site of actual wells, measuring actual emissions — to study precisely how much gas is being released at specific stages of well production where hydraulic fracturing is used.
"We need to increase our vigilance, and keep methane out of the atmosphere," says Hamburg. "Doing so will greatly reduce the impacts on local health and environment, as well as reduce emissions in greenhouse gasses."