The Alarming Rise of Natural Gas Methane Emissions: What You Need to Know

Natural Gas Methane Emissions

The rising temperatures and unprecedented methane emissions are evidence and implications of our unsustainable lifestyle and an unchecked consumption pattern.

We need to find out the Methane’s sources & its effect on the environment. However, it’s not too late to make a few lifestyle changes to eco-friendly ways to stop these growing problems at the source.

As individuals, let us start buying only what’s needed, storing correctly, and practicing using up what we have before buying even more.

As big companies responsible for a massive portion of this waste, It is time to follow the circular economy model in eco-friendly ways where reusability is an option.

These small shifts towards sustainability will have long-term effects which will save the planet. Let’s decide what future we want, starting from now.

Here in this article, read on Methane’s sources & its effect on the environment – and take time to read through about methane’s role in climate change and fixing our Natural Gas Methane Emissions leaks.

Massive effect of Methane in the atmosphere:

Every time a cow passes gas or burps, a little puff of methane releases into the atmosphere.

Each of those puffs coming out of an individual cow’s plumbing together can have a significant effect on global climate because methane is a potent greenhouse gas—about 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide at alarmingly warming the Earth, on a timescale of 100-years, and more than 80 times more powerful over 20 years.

The effects aren’t just hypothetical: methane concentrations in the atmosphere have more than doubled since the Industrial Revolution.

Over the first 20 years, methane has more than 80 times carbon dioxide’s warming power after reaching the atmosphere.

Though CO2 has a lasting effect, Natural Gas Methane Emissions is responsible for global warming.

Today’s at least 25% of warming is driven by methane from human actions. Most of the oil and gas industries are one of the largest methane sources.

Methane in freshwater systems is produced as microorganisms digest organic matter; this process is known as “methanogenesis.”

This very process hinges on a slew of temperature, chemical, physical, and ecological factors that can bedevil researchers & scientists to model how Earth’s systems will contribute and respond to a hotter future.

Microbes in cows’ bellies chow down on fiber and pump out methane, a greenhouse gas.

Now, this is the methane moment:

For many years, methane was surprisingly overlooked in the climactic conversation. But scientists and policymakers are gradually recognizing that methane depletions are really crucial over few years.

Slowing and steadily the unprecedented rate of warming can help avert our most acute climatic risks, including extreme weather, crop loss, wildfires, and rising sea levels. The atmospheric concentration of methane is growing faster than ever since the 80s.

This means that now is the methane moment: Acting now to reduce Natural Gas Methane Emissions will have immediate benefits to the climate that reductions in carbon dioxide cannot provide on their own. 

Methane directly influences climate change and indirect effect on human health, plant yield, and productivity due to its role as an essential precursor to ground-level ozone formation.

Methane (CH4) monitoring is an efficient way to detect the buildup of Methane (CH4) levels and take necessary actions.

This article covers information on methane gas, its sources in the ambient air, permissible levels, health and environmental impact, possible corrective measures, the need for methane monitors, and different methane (CH4) monitoring methods. 

What is Methane (CH4)? 

Methane (CH4) is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxic gas composed of one carbon and four hydrogen atoms. It is a significant component of natural gas, and it is highly flammable at very high concentrations of about 50,000 ppm. Methane is considered an asphyxiant at extremely high concentrations. 

Formation of Methane 

From the World Meteorological Organization Global Atmosphere Watch Programme, methane’s current average global background level is 1824 ppb. Approximately natural resources emit 40% of methane, and human activities, including intensive livestock farming, cause the other 60% emission.

Find out the sources of methane

Concentrations of methane have increased in the atmosphere by more than 150% since industrial activities and intensive agriculture started.

In the twentieth century, methane is responsible for about 23% of climate change after carbon dioxide, where little to no oxygen is available, and then methane is produced under such conditions.

  • About 30% of methane emissions are produced by wetlands, including ponds, lakes, and rivers
  • Another 20% is produced by agriculture due to livestock, waste management
  • And rice cultivation—activities related to oil, gas, and coal extraction release an additional 30%
  • The remainder of methane emissions comes from minor sources such as wildfire, biomass burning, permafrost, termites, dams, and the ocean. 

Most of the methane’s natural emissions originate from a soggy source like wetlands, which includes bogs.

Many microbes are like mammals; they generally ingest organic material and give way carbon dioxide—but many of them live in still, oxygen-deprived spots like waterlogged wetland soils generate methane instead, then leak into the atmosphere.

Overall, about a third of all the methane floating in the modern atmosphere comes from wetlands. 

There are various other natural methane sources. It seeps out of the ground naturally close to some oil and gas deposits and from the mouths of some volcanoes, that leaks out of thawing permafrost in the Arctic and builds up in the sediments underneath shallow, still seas; it wafts away from burning landscapes, entering the atmosphere as CO2; and termites produce it as they chow through piles of woody detritus.

But these other entire natural sources, excluding wetlands, only make up about ten percent of the total emissions each year.

Methane- Human sources 

Today, about 60 % of the methane in the atmosphere comes from sources scientists think of as human-caused.

In contrast, the rest comes from sources that existed before humans started influencing the carbon cycle in dramatic ways.

Methane is emitted from various anthropogenic (human-influenced) and natural sources. Anthropogenic emission sources include landfills, oil and natural gas systems, coal mining, agricultural activities, stationary and mobile combustion, wastewater treatment, and specific industrial processes.

Today, human-influenced sources make up the massive bulk of the methane into the atmosphere.

  • Cows and other grazing animals draw a lot of attention to the methane-producing belches and releases. Those grazers host microbes in their stomachs, gut-filling hitchhikers that actually help them break down and absorb the nutrients from the grasses. Such microbes produce methane as their waste, which wafts out of both ends of cows. The manure produced by cattle and other grazers is also a site for microbes to do their business, creating even more methane. There are almost 1.4 billion cattle in the world. That blooming number is growing as demand for beef and dairy increases; together with other grazing animals, they contribute nearly 40 percent of the annual methane budget.
  • Other agricultural activities also pump methane into the atmosphere. Rice paddies are more likely to wetlands: When they’re flooded, they’re filled with calm waters with a low oxygen concentration, which a natural home for methane-producing bacteria. Some scientists think they can see that when rice production took off in Asia, about 5,000 years ago, methane concentrations—recorded in tiny bubbles of ancient air trapped in ice cores in Antarctica—rose rapidly.
  • At gas and oil drilling sites, methane also leaks into the atmosphere in place in many states and countries, and they strictly follow the rules about how much leakage is usually allowed. Still, those rules have pretty difficult to enforce. Wells in the U.S. alone produces about 60 percent more methane than previously estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency- suggested by recent studies. The energy sector contributes almost a quarter of the annual methane budget worldwide.
  • Another primary source is Waste. Microbes in the area of landfills and sewage treatment centers chomp through the detritus humans leave behind and, in the process, pump out about 14 percent of the U.S.’s annual footprint that tons of methane each year.
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Children collect goods from the garbage originate Methane gas.

Natural Gas Methane Emissions’s impact on climate change, past, present, and future

Deep in Earth’s history, millions of years ago- methane may also have been the cause of rapid warming events.

Under high pressure, as the pressures are found deep at the bottom of the ocean, methane solidifies into a slush-like material that is being called methane hydrate.

Massive amounts of methane are “frozen” in place at the bottom of the sea in such a chemical state, though the exact quantities and locations are still being studied.

The hydrates are being stable unless something comes along to disturb them, like a plume of warm water.

Some scientists think that destabilized hydrates may have kicked off a massive warming event that occurred about 55 million years ago.

Methane reached up from the seafloor into the atmosphere, flooding it with the heat-trapping gas and forcing the planet to warm drastically fast.

In the present-time atmosphere, methane concentrations have risen by more than 150% since the year 1750.

It’s not easy to understand whether this rise will continue or at what rate, but the IPCC warns that keeping methane emissions indirect check is necessary to keep the planet from warming further.

The most significant contributors to the methane increase were regions at tropical latitudes, such as South Asia, Brazil, and Southeast Asia, followed by countries at the northern-mid latitude such as the US, Europe, and China.

In Australia, agriculture is the most significant source of methane. Livestock is the predominant cause of emissions in this sector, which have declined slowly over time.

The fossil fuel industry is the next most significant contributor in Australia. In the past six years, methane emissions from this sector have increased due to the scaling up of the natural gas industry and associated “fugitive” emissions – those that escape or are released during gas production and transport.

Scientists worldwide are working to better understand methane’s budget with the ultimate goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving the prediction of environmental change.

Health & Environmental Impact of Methane (CH4)

Health Impact: Methane is not toxic and does not harm low levels. However, it displaces oxygen causing asphyxiation at the highest concentrations.

A human requires almost 18% oxygen to breathe; hence at high methane levels in confined spaces becomes extremely dangerous.

High-level exposure to Methane (CH4) may cause suffocation, loss of consciousness, nausea and vomiting, headache and dizziness, slurred speech, mood changes, memory loss, vision problems, etc.

In severe cases, it can also cause rapid breathing, loss of coordination, and numbness. Long-term exposure can be the reason for coma and death.  

Environmental Impact: Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas, second to carbon dioxide (CO2), making it highly efficient in trapping heat.

It is a notable contributor to global warming. Methane (CH4) is an essential precursor of another greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide.

While converting to carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, methane reacts to form evaporative organic compounds and form ground-level ozone mixed with NOx.

Reasons why Methane (CH4) monitoring is critical: Methane (CH4) is a colorless, tasteless, odorless, non-toxic gas naturally produced at the time of the anaerobic decomposition of organic compounds.

Its rises and accumulates near the higher, stagnant parts of enclosed spaces. It is the second most significant greenhouse gas with 28 times higher global warming potential than carbon dioxide.

Methane (CH4) presence in the atmosphere increases other greenhouse gases such as CO2, O3, water vapor, etc. Methane (CH4) is an asphyxiant at higher concentrations leading to various issues such as suffocation, loss of consciousness, nausea, rapid breathing, numbness, etc., and may lead to coma and death. Methane (CH4) monitoring is an efficient way to detect the buildup of Methane (CH4) levels and take necessary actions.

Real-time monitoring of Methane (CH4) levels helps determine their source and formulate an action plan to control methane (CH4) emissions.

Concluding thoughts- Fixing our methane leaks 

Despite all the bad news from the revealing of Methane’s sources & its effect on the atmosphere and environment, there is a light of good news.

Many other sources of methane shouldn’t be too tough to tackle, especially emissions from the urban gas leaks, coal and gas production, landfills, and sewage plants.

Newly invented technological devices such as vehicle-mounted leak detectors and drones make it much easier to locate the most significant sources of emissions that can then be eliminated. Landfills of huge waste can be covered.

Fuel industries must also find ways to reduce natural gas leaks to preserving their reputation as green energy sources.

Methane emissions can also be reduced by avoiding burning crop waste, common in Africa, South, and East Asia.

Around the world, a considerable number of research and development efforts are searching for ways to reduce methane emissions. The removal method of methane from the atmosphere is also being explored.

Europe shows what’s possible. Research shows us methane emissions have declined over the past two decades – primarily due to agriculture and waste policies, leading to better managing livestock, manure, and landfill.

Livestock produces methane which is part of their digestive process. Feed additives and supplements can be reduced these emissions from ruminant livestock. There is also research the suggests selective breeding for low emissions livestock.

The three steps of extraction, processing and transport of fossil fuels contribute to substantial methane emissions.

Though “super-emitters” – oil and gas sites that release a massive volume of methane that contribute disproportionately to the problem.

Methane’s short span of a lifetime in the atmosphere means any action taken today would bring results in just nine years. That provides a vast opportunity for rapid climate change mitigation.

Few facts on Natural Gas Methane Emissions and carbon

Is methane worse than carbon?/ How much more damaging is methane than CO2?

Each of those puffs comes out of a cow’s plumbing added together, can have a significant effect on climate as methane is a potent greenhouse gas—almost 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide at warming the Earth, on a 100-year timescale, and more than 80 times more powerful over 20 years.

Is methane a carbon?

Methane is a simple gas, a single carbon atom with four arms of hydrogen atoms.

Why is methane more potent than CO2?

Methane is a more vital greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide because it has a much higher heat-trapping ability. Methane on a weight basis has 21 times the global warming potential (GWP) of carbon dioxide

What is the difference between methane and carbon dioxide?

While carbon dioxide is typically upheld as the bad boy of greenhouse gases, methane is nearly 30 times more potential heat-trapping gas. As temperatures rise, the relative increase of methane emissions will exceed that of carbon dioxide from these sources.

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