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Methane emissions are much higher than we were led to believe

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A new analysis published Monday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Emissions by 15 climate scientists found that emissions of the greenhouse gas methane due to human activity were roughly one and a half times greater in the United States than prevailing estimates by the EPA. Furthermore, in three states alone—Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas-- methane pollution was 2.7 times higher than we were led to believe.

What is worse, in those three states, methane pollution from gas and oil production alone is 5 times higher than previous estimates. The methane pollution from oil and gas is most likely wiping out any gains in pollution from burning natural gas. Just three states may have been responsible for a quarter of all man-made methane discharges in the United States.

This study says that two sources of methane emissions in particular — from oil and gas production and from cattle and other livestock — appear to have been markedly larger than the E.P.A. estimated during 2007 and 2008.

The study took nearly 12,700 measurements of atmospheric methane in 2007 and 2008 and used those measurements as the basis for their study. The conclusions are sharply at odds with the two most comprehensive estimates of methane emissions, by the Environmental Protection Agency and an alliance of the Netherlands and the European Commission. This study concludes those studies drastically under reported methane pollution.

As the New York Times reports, the E.P.A. have stated that all emissions of methane, from both man-made and natural sources, have been slowly but steadily declining since the mid-1990s. In April, the EPA reduced its estimate of methane discharges from 1990 through 2010 by 8 to 12 percent, largely citing sharp decreases in discharges from gas production and transmission, landfills and coal mines.

“These are pretty substantial numbers we’re dealing with, and an important part of greenhouse gas emissions,” Scot M. Miller of Harvard University’s department of earth and planetary sciences, told the Times on Monday. “Our study shows that there could be large greenhouse gas emissions in places in the country where we may not necessarily have accounted for them.” He said the higher estimates underscore methane’s significant contribution to rising temperatures.

Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. It rapidly breaks down in the atmosphere, but its contribution to global warming is 21 times greater than carbon dioxide’s over a 100-year period. And it appears there is more methane than we thought.

Last week, Colorado’s Governor Hickenlooper announced new methane regulations that would be the toughest in the nation. He had the support of three of the state’s largest oil and gas producers. The Colorado regulations would require producers to cut their methane by 95%, and monitor it by infrared cameras. That is the same as taking every car in Colorado off the road for a year. In light of this news, perhaps other states need to get on board with similar regulations.

Extreme weather events are caused or made more extreme by the warming of the earth and most importantly the waters of the oceans. Greenhouse gasses trap heat which leads to warming. Methane occurs naturally, but man is generally responsible for releasing methane from the earth into the atmosphere by oil and gas production and methane leaks from pipelines. In addition, the warm waters in the ocean are releasing methane that has been frozen beneath the sea since the ice age. Man is indirectly responsible for this as well.

Congress will do nothing about reducing greenhouse gas pollution except make it worse. If something is going to be done, states may need to take the lead.

Meanwhile, brace yourself for severe weather.

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