Figuring out methane's role in the climate puzzle

July 9, 2014

The U.S. may be on the verge of an economy driven by methane, the primary component of natural gas, which burns cleaner than coal and is undergoing a production boom. It has poised the country as a top fuel producer globally, but recent research is casting serious doubts over just how climate-friendly it is, according to an article in Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), the weekly news magazine of the American Chemical Society.

In the article, Jeff Johnson, a senior correspondent at C&EN, explains that when burned as a fuel to produce electricity, emits about half as much carbon dioxide (CO2), a major greenhouse gas, as . But not all methane gets burned as fuel. Some of the gas is released, either through leaks or intentional venting from oil and gas wells, into the atmosphere. Although it is present in much smaller amounts in the atmosphere compared to CO2—the primary target for climate change regulations—methane has 86 times more global warming potential. And estimates vary significantly over just how much is escaping into the air.

To get a better handle on the methane picture, researchers are planning more detailed studies to estimate the gas's emissions from oil and gas operations. In parallel, the Environmental Protection Agency, which has so far been reluctant to directly regulate methane emissions, plans to review the situation. If deemed necessary, the agency would propose new regulations by 2016.

Explore further: US to tackle methane in climate change push (Update)

More information: "Methane's Role in Climate Change" -

Related Stories

Study shows bacteria combat dangerous gas leaks

April 28, 2014

Bacteria could mop up naturally-occurring and man-made leaks of natural gases before they are released into the atmosphere and cause global warming - according to new research from the University of East Anglia.

Control methane now, greenhouse gas expert warns

May 14, 2014

( —As the shale gas boom continues, the atmosphere receives more methane, adding to Earth's greenhouse gas problem. A Cornell ecology professor fears that we may not be many years away from an environmental tipping ...

Recommended for you

A new form of real gold, almost as light as air

November 25, 2015

Researchers at ETH Zurich have created a new type of foam made of real gold. It is the lightest form ever produced of the precious metal: a thousand times lighter than its conventional form and yet it is nearly impossible ...

Getting under the skin of a medieval mystery

November 23, 2015

A simple PVC eraser has helped an international team of scientists led by bioarchaeologists at the University of York to resolve the mystery surrounding the tissue-thin parchment used by medieval scribes to produce the first ...

Moonlighting molecules: Finding new uses for old enzymes

November 27, 2015

A collaboration between the University of Cambridge and MedImmune, the global biologics research and development arm of AstraZeneca, has led researchers to identify a potentially significant new application for a well-known ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.