Technology What Is Methane, Anyway?
EPA methane emissions rules are a solution in search of a problem
The energy industry has a strong incentive to reduce fugitive methane emissions — and has done so.Against this backdrop, the Trump administration is pressing for a revision of Obama-era environmental regulations, including oversight of methane emissions. Specifically, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is pushing a final methane rule that would remove the oil and gas industry's transmission and storage segments from regulation, and rescind emission limits on the industry's processing and production segments.
- is a colorless, odorless, and highly flammable gas, and the main component in natural gas, which is used to generate electricity and heat homes around the world.
- Methane accounted for roughly 10 percent of all human-driven greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. in 2017, according to the EPA.
- The EPA announced in August 2019 that it would .
Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it would begin to, a powerful greenhouse gas. Under the current rules, oil and gas operations are required to install controls that keep methane gas from leaking out of their equipment.
EPA expected to undo methane leak rule for oil, gas industry
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — President Donald Trump's administration is expected to undo Obama-era rules designed to limit greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas fields and pipelines, formalizing the changes Thursday in the heart of the nation's most prolific natural gas reservoir and in the premier presidential battleground state of Pennsylvania. Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, is expected to sign the rollback of the 2016 methane emissions rule in Pittsburgh in an event the agency touted as an announcement on the Trump administration's efforts to "strengthen and promote American energy.
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The Trump administration argues the EPA doesn't have the authority to regulate methane gas under the. But the move goes against the recommendation of some major players in the oil and natural gas industry, such as Shell, BP, and Exxon, which supported the 2016 regulations and have recently made public their commitment to curbing methane gas emissions.
So why is this such a big deal? Let's break it down.
What Is Methane, Anyway?
Methane (CH4) is a colorless, odorless, and highly flammable gas composed of one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms. It can be produced naturally and synthetically, and when burned in the presence of oxygen, it produces carbon dioxide and water vapor.
EPA finalizes rollback of Obama-era oil and gas methane emissions standards
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday finalized rescinded standards for methane emissions in the oil and gas industry and foreshadowed similar actions for other pollutants.The finalized rule rescinds standards that specifically regulate methane emissions from oil and gas production, processing, transmission and storage. The agency rule also sets the stage for rollbacks to other pollutants by arguing that the EPA under former President Obama did not sufficiently define what constitutes a "significant" contribution to climate change under the Clean Air Act.
Methane is the primary component of natural gas and is used to produce heat and electricity around the world. Methane is also used in chemical reactions to produce other important gases like hydrogen and carbon monoxide and carbon black, a chemical compound that's found in some types of rubber used in car tires.
The gas is also a significant contributor to climate change. In 2017, methane accounted for roughly 10 percent of all human-driven greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., according to the EPA. While it isn’t the most abundant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, it is among the most powerful.
Where Is Methane Found, and How Is It Released?
There are two main ways that methane can be naturally produced.
First, methane can be produced through a series of chemical reactions as organic matter is decomposed at shallow depths in low-oxygen environments, such as swamps and bogs. As plants die and sink to the bottom of these watery environments, bacteria starts to break them down. According to a, wetlands are the single largest natural contributor to methane emissions. Additionally, methane can leak from mud volcanoes, rice fields, and strangely, termites.
Opinion: Why environmentalists should applaud Biden
Froma Harrop writes that climate hawks seem to think now is a good time to push Biden into a position of scaring a demographic that he needs to win in November: blue-collar workers who depend on the fracking industry. Biden doesn't support a total ban of fracking, but he has a plan to address the crisis of climate change. It involves pushing America to carbon-free electricity by 2035 and creating new union jobs in clean energy. © David McNew/Getty Images Gas and oil extraction using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Conspicuously absent from his 15-page outline is a call to totally ban fracking, as demanded by Massachusetts Sen.
Methane can also be found in underground fossil fuel deposits that have been subjected to high pressure and temperatures over millions and millions of years. As these fuels are harvested, mined, and released, so is methane. Methane is difficult to transport and—hence the regulations.
“If you’re trying to impact climate policy in the next 10 years, methane is a really good chemical to go after,” Daniel Varon, an atmospheric scientist at Harvard University, tells Popular Mechanics.
A form of methane mixed with ice, called methane gas hydrates, can be found trapped in layers of sediment on the ocean floor and beneath permafrost and frozen lakes in the Arctic. These solid, ice-like deposits have been touted as a potential energy source, but are particularly troubling because they can release large.
According to the, roughly 50 to 65 percent of U.S. methane emissions are related to human activity, while around 30 percent of human-related methane emissions are released by the natural gas and petroleum industry.
Massive mystery holes appear in Siberian tundra — and could be linked to climate change
The dramatic 30-meter (100-feet) deep hole in Western Siberia is the latest of several to have formed in the region since 2014. Scientists think the craters are formed by an explosive buildup of methane gas but there is still a lot they don't know.Scientists are not sure exactly how the huge hole, which is at least the ninth spotted in the region since 2013, formed. Initial theories floated when the first crater was discovered near an oil and gas field in the Yamal Peninsula in northwest Siberia included a meteorite impact, a UFO landing and the collapse of a secret underground military storage facility.
About 27 percent of methane emissions are generated through a process called enteric fermentation—cows burping and occasionally farting while they digest their food, basically—and 16 percent of global methane emissions are generated by organic waste decomposing in landfills. Methane can be also be released through the storage and use of manure for fuel (9 percent) and through coal mining (8 percent).
As for the belching bovines, a recent studyidentified groups of microbes in cows' guts that cause enteric fermentation and suggested that selectively breeding cows to produce less gas might lower emissions.
So Why Is Methane Such a Big Deal?
Of all the greenhouse gases, methane is one of the most potent because of its ability to efficiently absorb heat in Earth’s atmosphere. Studies have shown that, over a 20-year period, a kilogram of methane warms the planet.
Methane lasts for maybe a decade in Earth's atmosphere before it begins to react with a free radical called hydroxyl and turns into carbon dioxide, where it can stay there for centuries.
Therefore, most of methane's time in the atmosphere as a molecule is spent as a CO2 molecule, Varon says. Far less methane is emitted into the air than carbon dioxide. "Just mitigating methane without mitigating CO2 is not going to be as helpful in the long term," he says. Still, methane leaves lasting impacts.
Oil and gas is a partner — not an adversary — in meeting our economic and environmental goals
Our industry has been instrumental in solving challenges in the past. We know how to collaborate with other industries — as well as with government officials and nonprofits — to deliver innovative technologies that meet legislative and policy goals to grow jobs and reduce emissions. We are here to not just deliver a message but become real partners in the American economy and cleaner energy future.Anne Bradbury is CEO of the American Exploration and Production Council, a national trade association representing the largest independent oil and natural gas exploration and production companies in the United States.
For example, one of these impacts is a phenomenon called thermal expansion. Greenhouse gases like methane heat up the atmosphere, andis absorbed by the oceans. This heat causes seawater to expand in volume. This effect, along with glacial melting, causes sea levels to rise.
Scientists have known for a long time that carbon dioxide heats Earth’s atmosphere and oceans, causing them to expand, but they only recently discovered that short-lived greenhouse gases like methane and CFCs (gases that contain chlorine or fluorine) also spur thermal expansion. In 2017, scientists ranthermal expansion caused by methane continues for centuries even after the gas has dissipated from the atmosphere.
And finally, there are health benefits to regulating methane. Emitting the gas can actually lead to higher levels of ozone in the atmosphere, says Varon. Ozone can cause a number of health problems such as shortness of breath and aggravate lung conditions like asthma, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis,.
“People have been measuring methane in the atmosphere with aircraft and ground instruments for a long time,” Varon says. He and his colleagues work with government agencies that use satellites to pinpoint where emissions are highest. This information can help identify facilities that are leaking methane and lead to better monitoring, and subsequently, regulations of oil and natural gas operations around the world.
Understanding where methane comes from can help us mitigate the impacts of climate change, but it’s still an uphill battle. The EPA’s latest rollback could make that hill a lot steeper.
An original version of this article stated that due to a chemical reaction most of methane's atmospheric lifetime is spent as a CO2 molecule. We've since clarified the statement to reflect that the chemical reaction occurs at the end of methane's atmospheric lifetime. We regret the error.
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