14 February 2014

Natural gas IS methane!

I don't know about you, but I'm a little stunned to find out that all the "methane releases" people are talking about with fracking are basically the same as leaks of the natural gas they are trying to find (as opposed to cow-related methane causing explosions). They are, in other words, the same as oil spills near wells, tankers or refineries, because natural gas is mainly methane.

I kept thinking that methane in tap water (flaming tap water!) happened because sometimes there was methane near the natural gas well. Now I hear (from my GF) that it's always there. Doh!

Well, that's quite interesting to me, because now we are talking about more efficient production as the same as less-leaky production. That should clarify the importance which companies should give to leaks, but perhaps it also highlights their willingness (probably based on cost-benefit tradeoffs) to "spill a little" in the extraction process.

Did you make that connection? If so, what are the implications for methane pollution from fracking, which is about 20x the pollution from conventional natural gas production?

Credit for this enlightenment -- and a H/T for cow farts -- to Cornelia :)


  1. Don't know if this Science-published study by Stanford's Adam Brandt spurred your post:

    RESEARCH:EPA has underestimated methane emissions, including those from gas leaks -- study

    "If such leaks are common, the climate benefits of burning natural gas rather than coal diminish.

    'Methane is a potent greenhouse gas,' said Adam Brandt, a Stanford University professor who studies methane leaks. 'So relatively small leaks can have a significant impact on the overall greenhouse gas intensity of using natural gas.'"

  2. @Kai -- No it didn't, but it's timely (I just saw it). Thanks for the link!

  3. This sounds scarier than it really is. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas but it absorbs light at wavelengths where water vapor already absorbs most of the available energy. Therefore it has little impact on overall warming in our atmosphere.


  4. "Most" implies darkness. I think you're versimplifying.

    1. The "most" I'm talking about is in a range of frequencies that aren't visible. If, hypothetically, I block or absorb 100% of non-visible frequencies of light, you wouldn't see any difference, it wouldn't be dark at all. It would, however, be quite a bit warmer. I can only assume that you didn't read the article since I know you're smarter than that comment makes you sound.

      This is part of the problem with the whole climate change debate. It's engaged in mostly by people who aren't qualified to have informed opinions or make useful suggestions. I include myself in that group but I also include most "climate scientists." It's an infant field whose principals aren't well understood and whose theories haven't been well vetted. Still, I and, I hope, most climate scientists have studied enough physics to look at the relevant data, and see that methane isn't much of a concern.

    2. Well, I just read that article (and many "we win" comments). What I still see as a problem is that the atmosphere is not "solid" H20. Thus, light that misses some H20 will get absorbed by CH4 *if it's there.*
      So, sorry. it's not just bad to vent methane on the ground. It's bad for CC.

    3. Yes, the hardcore deniers came out in droves to slap each other on the back over that article. They are also part of the problem.
      The point is that if you are worried about CC in general, CH4 is a pretty poor place to attack the problem. It's impact is negligible and will remain so for as long as we have so much H20 in the atmosphere. In fact, as temperatures rise, CH4's net contribution will diminish because there will be even more water in the atmosphere.

      The issue works in both directions. If we could wave a magic wand and make all of the atmospheric methane disappear, the impact on climate would me miniscule. Venting methane on the ground is a bad thing for lots of reasons but its contribution to global climate change is not among them.


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