The Dangers of Methane

Hello all!

Last week we talked about what fracking was, and how it’s not a breakthrough green energy like many claim. In fact, fracking can be as dirty as coal due to methane leaks. In this week’s blog, I will look further into just how much methane is leaking, whether it’s something to worry about.

It is critical to understand just how bad methane can be for the environment. If a reasonably intelligent person were asked what gas is behind global warming, the most common response would likely be carbon dioxide. And that’s correct – carbon dioxide is the biggest contributor to global warming. But most people wouldn’t think methane would be the next biggest contributor. Methane’s contribution to the greenhouse effect is significant – although there is over 200 times more CO2 than methane in the atmosphere, methane’s effect on global warming is 28% of carbon dioxide’s. Think about that. Methane is contributing over a quarter of the warming that carbon dioxide is, yet carbon dioxide is 200 times more prevalent in the atmosphere.

Methane is even more dangerous in the short run. Being a “mere” 33 times more potent than CO2 over the course of a century, it is a whopping 105 times more powerful than CO2 over a twenty-year period. This means that releasing more methane gas will have a much more severe and immediate impact on global warming than releasing more carbon dioxide will.

But how much is fracking contributing to the total methane released into our atmosphere? Leaks of methane occur while drilling, compression, and pipeline transport. Natural gas plants also leak significant amounts of methane. One study found that natural gas plants could leak upwards of 1000 tons of natural gas per year. Several studies found that leakage rates could be up to 9% of total natural gas production. Natural gas drilling is now the world’s third largest methane releaser, behind factory farms and landfills. And it won’t be the third largest for long.

Many scientists believe that the rapid development of shale deposits could result in huge methane releases and potentially tip the planet into an “alternate climate system.” That’s the last thing we want as we attempt to divert the planet from experiencing an irreversible climate change. Increasing the drilling of natural gas may be cheaper and easier than developing other alternative energies like solar or wind power, but when energy companies cut corners, the earth will feel the consequences.

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2 thoughts on “The Dangers of Methane

  1. bgr5040

    That you mentioned the Susquehanna River made me wonder if there were issues with methane in the water around my house in Maryland, which is on the Chesapeake Bay not too far from the mouth of the Susquehanna. And I found that there have been some issues with methane–in fact, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation did an infrared video investigation of natural gas drilling and processing sites in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia. The video in which they show and discuss their findings is only 2 minutes long, and they show infrared clips where you can see the pollution that is invisible to the naked eye. And it makes you think, these plants are putting off all the pollution that we do see, but also all this? It really makes you rethink how much methane is actually being produced.

  2. Eric Tschantz

    Another story from my hometown comes to mind. Many people have been very concerned with methane leaks polluting our river and peoples’ well water. About 20 miles north of my town, is Dimock, an area that has received a ton of media coverage and stories of natural gas leaks causing problem’s with people’s well water. The company, Cabot Oil and Natural Gas, denied having contaminated 18 Dimock area water wells, but the Department of Environmental protection stopped there operations in that community. After quite a long time, and Cabot having to pay to ship clean water to the affected houses, Cabot agreed to pay a $4.6 million dollar settlement. There were many news stories of people lighting the water that came directly out of their faucet on fire. It is hard to say exactly how dangerous natural gas drilling can be. Some people claim that the Susquehanna River (the river near me) has methane pollutants in it because of natural gas drilling, but there is also the issue of how much of the methane is just naturally occurring. Unfortunately, many baseline tests were not conducted before natural gas drilling started. So, now it is the recommendation of many people if you are getting a natural gas well put in, to have your water tested before and after the well is put in to have figures to compare the data.

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