Greenhouse Gases CH4 is CO2 On Steroids

The Economist April 3rd, 2021 |Science and technology|Global Warming|”The other greenhouse gas” “Everyone worries about carbon dioxide. Worrying about methane might be more immediately productive”


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Summary of the article

Data presented in charts. Methane as parts per billion (PPB) measured in by land-based and satellite methods has increased steadily since the start of the industrial era.

How is methane being released into the environment?

About 725 million tons of methane per year were being released between 2008-17. Half of the release is from man-made sources and half is from natural sources. Man-made sources include fossil fuels, agriculture and waste in the following percentages; 30% from ruminants and manure, 8% from rice farming, 22% from leaks resulting from oil and gas production, 11% from leaks generated in coal mining, 18% from solid and liquid waste handling, 8% from fires and biofuel and a small percentage from other sources including transport. Natural methane emissions are primarily from wetlands. These emissions are partly counterbalanced by “atmospheric chemicals” and actions within the soil that actively remove 600 million tons each year.

As it turns out methane “warm[s] the atmosphere about 86 times more than ”an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide." As a result, "methane, is called carbon dioxide on steroids [and] is responsible for 23% of the rise in [earth's] temperature since pre-industrial times.” So, making changes in methane emissions is a must in our quest to slow global warming. Fortunately, relatively small and doable changes can markedly help us reach targets for reducing methane release.

What can be done to reduce methane emissions?

Methane, commonly known as natural gas, unlike carbon dioxide is a valuable energy source. Natural gas leaking from oil and gas production and coal mining can be captured and sold to offset retrofitting costs. “75% of emissions from the oil and gas sectors…could be avoided with technologies available today, and 40% [of that]...could be eliminated at no net cost.” Methane leaking from dumps and wastewater treatment plants can also be captured.

Methane release is a global problem. China still focused on coal for energy is responsible for most of the man-made methane release. In contrast, “Europe was the only region to achieve a drop in emissions in part thanks to policies to reduce the amount of biodegradable waste sent to landfills.”

Cattle release methane, a problem in meat-eating countries, but additives to cattle feed “can reduce the amount a cow emits by 27-40%.”

Rice paddies are typically irrigated by submerging rice plants in water. This deprives the soil of oxygen and facilitates methane release from soil-based anaerobic bacteria that thrive in these conditions. Using less water by modifying irrigation techniques can reduce methane release and save water.

For America, it’s likely Biden will realign policy towards reducing methane emissions.

A business adage “expect what you inspect”. Enter GHGSat (See figure above) and Methane SAT. “MethaneSAT…this satellite will scan the earth’s surface every few days…to monitor and report point-sources of gas from fossil-fuel operations.” MethaneSAT may eventually be applied to agricultural emissions as well.