Satellite data shows livestock emitted more methane than oil and gas industry in 2004

Photo of landfill burn off flare. Credit: Eddie Hagler/Public Domain

Analysis of data received from a satellite in 2004 has shown that at least during that year, livestock in the U.S. emitted more methane into the atmosphere than did the oil and gas industry. In their article published in Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, a team of researchers from Harvard University, California Institute of Technology and the University of California studying the data note that such emissions were far higher than was reported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Most everyone knows by now about the problems with in the atmosphere—most agree that it's causing . But there is another greenhouse gas that is also of concern: methane. Though it doesn't stay in the atmosphere as long, it's better at blanketing the planet, causing warming. For that reason, scientists and governments attempt to monitor how much is being emitted into the atmosphere due to manmade actions so that plans for reducing it can be put into place. The prime culprits are the oil and , and livestock (though likely a significant source, amounts of methane emitted by human flatulence is not counted.) In this new effort, the researchers have found that the actual amounts being emitted by both sources in the U.S. don't match what the government has been reporting.

Back in 2004, the ENVISAT satellite with a special sensor aboard took measurements of gasses in the atmosphere across the planet. The researchers used that data to create a map of methane emissions all across the U.S., focusing most specifically on areas where high volumes of could be seen. They compared their map with other maps created by other teams using data collected from airplanes and found agreement in areas covered by the planes. In comparing what they found with data supplied by the EPA, however, the researchers found differences in the amounts reported for both livestock and the oil and gas industry.

Specifically, the researchers found satellite data showed livestock emitted 13 million tons of methane over the summer in 2004 (the EPA reported 9.7 million tons). They found the also showed that the combined emissions of the oil and gas industry amounted to 7 million tons (the EPA reported 9.9 million tons).

Unfortunately the sensor on the satellite was unable to show amounts after 2004, thus more data is not available. That will change soon however as a new satellite with sophisticated atmospheric gas monitoring sensors aboard is set to launch next year.

Explore further

Figuring out methane's role in the climate puzzle

More information: Wecht, K. J., D. J. Jacob, C. Frankenberg, Z. Jiang, and D. R. Blake (2014) "Mapping of North American methane emissions with high spatial resolution by inversion of SCIAMACHY satellite data," J. Geophys. Res. Atmos., 119, DOI: 10.1002/2014JD021551

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Jul 11, 2014
Whew, cow farts. Add the energy cost of growing inefficient feed to produce all that beef, and the toll it takes on human health . . . maybe the libs ought to be less concerned about banning guns and consider banning bovines instead. Now excuse me while I eat my breakfast burrito. Burp . . . oops, more damage.

Jul 11, 2014
Add the energy cost of growing inefficient feed to produce all that beef, and the toll it takes on human health . .

.........anything other than a "grassfed" bovine diet makes those critters unfit to eat anyway.

Jul 11, 2014
Whoa.... there fella!
Cow fart sniffing satellites?
Now that's pushing the envelope.

Jul 11, 2014
It took them ten years to analyze data from 2004? Those were the days before extensive fracking activity took place in the US. Read more in the manuscript below by Wecht et al.

"Emissions of methane in North America may be rapidly changing in the future as a result
of increasing oil and gas production, changes in recovery practices, evolving regulations, and climate change affecting wetlands. The GOSAT satellite observations (2009-present) may be useful to track recent trends but are relatively sparse. The TROPOMI instrument to be launched in 2015 will provide global daily coverage with 7x7 km2 nadir spatial resolution and precision of 555 0.6% [Veefkind et al., 2012; Butz et al., 2012]. This will provide a tremendous boost to monitoring methane emissions from space."


Jul 11, 2014
this story seems to be full of hot air and wind...
(sorry, just had to)

Jul 11, 2014
What most folks are failing to see is that livestock methane is not full of toxic chemicals. Big, big difference, and this is how the Powers that Be get folks to believe stories like this one, especially those that refuse to see that man is this planet's biggest problem.

Jul 11, 2014
The polar bears will be fine - Freeman "frickin'" Dyson.

Jul 11, 2014
Why do liberals have to embarrass cows, like this?

Actually, they only embarrass themselves thinking they are going to control the beef industry and energy industry.

Jul 11, 2014
Let me be first to express the common sentiment that this "research" stinks.

Jul 11, 2014
Completely astounded by the comments here.
The article clearly states that the US government has been tampering climate related data. How is this something that can be brushed off with fart jokes?
For if the government falsified methane levels then we can rest assured a lot of other data, if not all, is distorted. This completely debases all climate discussion as the data used for the models is distorted for political purposes.

Jul 11, 2014
Thing is, before the oil and gas industry, there were 1,000,000,000 bison in north america. So really, the oil and gas emissions are ADDITIVE.

Jul 12, 2014
Benjamin Franklin (a founding farter, BTW) sniffed out the fundaments of this crisis centuries ago: http://humoriname...proudly/

Jul 12, 2014
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Jul 12, 2014
Cows - who needs them? Manure is actually a very good fuel.

"Dry animal dung is used as a fuel in many countries around the world. It is a source of Green fuel used by more than two billion people. However it might have some disadvantages as air pollution. As a cheap bioenergy source, it has gained growing interest."

-So why can't we engineer cows to perhaps entrain this methane in their manure or convert it to a solid component? Much methane comes from the manure itself.

"EPA estimates 1997 U.S. methane emissions from livestock manure management at 17.0 MMTCE (3.0 Tg), which accounts for ten percent of total 1997 U.S. methane emissions (EPA,1999)"

-So perhaps burning it would reduce methane and disposal problems.

Jul 12, 2014
Oh I didn't read the EPA paper far enough

"Cost-effective technologies are available that can stem this emission growth by recovering methane and using it as an energy source. These technologies, commonly referred to as anaerobic digesters, decompose manure in a con- trolled environment and recover methane produced from the manure. The recovered methane can fuel engine- generators to produce electricity..."

-So all we need to do is build cows which can flatulate in solid form. Or perhaps we just need to reengineer their gut microbes to convert methane to a more useful form.

"Several years ago, researchers in Australia, which has 28.5 million cattle and ranks third among the world's beef exporters, developed a crude version of a vaccine that also lowers ruminants' methane emissions, by permanently fighting off the methane-producing microbes inside the cows' guts."

Jul 12, 2014
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Jul 12, 2014
We need to put an emissions tax on any intestinal flatulence based on the decibel level of the escaping gasses! Monitoring stations could be created that would contain high amp microphones that would pinpoint any abrupt animal discharges of methane gas. NSA could oversee the technical operations and Homeland Defense could then arrest the miscreants and round up the animals. Studies have shown that most of the methane flatulence comes from Washington DC! We need to tax the government first until they cannot print any more money and then every living thing that breaks wind. Soon liberal progressives will decriminalize drug crime, rape and child molestation and use the money they save to line the pockets of global warming and climate change Democrat alarmists!

Jul 12, 2014

If this disgusts, upsets or embarrasses you, don't complain, You read it!

WOW;, the picture is a near perfect advertisement for my new invention I have been telling you all about!
For just $19.95 (plus S&H) you can now buy my new invention for Methane emissions.! : PFLAT-OUT, FLATULENCE MEDIATOR! It comes with a handy belt for around the waist, with an adjustable little dangly chain suspending at exactly the right position our special PFLAT ignitor. It eliminates dangerous methane converting it to colorless odorless CO2. It also cooks out hydrogen Sulfide eliminating that embarrassing odor of rotten eggs! Also very handy for those who have difficulty getting up in the morning or up from a chair. Butt wait: for your dearly beloved, a second Flat out will be mailed for just an additional S&H charge. For the Bovines in your family; Cow or sheep models slightly more butt also includes a cute little bamboo umbrella cover to keep The ignitor dry and tidy!

Jul 12, 2014
Bull models somewhat higher butt includes a warning sign to not stand in front of any bull equipped with PFLAT-OUT! Imagine, just picture the amazed and puzzled look on any bovines face the first time they try out new PFlAT- OUT! They soon learn not to pfart, which will immensly please all AGW environmentalist (warmers)! Test work indicates only one other known drawback; that is of drop cows. Seems that after the educated Bovines stop breaking wind, they tend to float away and when they reach 60,000 feet they unfortunately POP and DROP! The solution is our new drop cow umbrella; available for just..............!*o|:-) catch

Jul 12, 2014
Every great invention I come up with somehow gets made unnecessary, irrelevant or farted on!!

Really? July 11

Study: Smelling farts is good for your health
The next time someone at your office lets out a "silent but deadly" emission, maybe you should thank them. A new study at the University of Exeter suggests that exposure to hydrogen sulfide — a.k.a. what your body produces as bacteria breaks down food, causing gas — could prevent mitochondria damage. Yep, the implication is what you're thinking: People are taking the research to mean that smelling farts could prevent disease and even cancer.
The study, published in the Medicinal Chemistry Communications journal, found that hydrogen sulfide gas in rotten eggs and flatulence could be a key factor in treating diseases.
"Although hydrogen sulfide gas is well known as a pungent, foul-smelling gas in rotten eggs and flatulence, it is naturally produced in the body and could in fact be a healthcare hero with signif

Jul 12, 2014
and could in fact be a healthcare hero with significant implications for future therapies for a variety of diseases," Dr. Mark Wood, a professor at the University of Exeter, said in a statement.
While hydrogen sulfide gas is harmful in large doses, the study suggests that "a whiff here and there has the power to reduce risks of cancer, strokes, heart attacks, arthritis, and dementia by preserving mitochondria," Time reports. Dr. Matt Whiteman, a University of Exeter professor who worked on the study, said in a statement that researchers are even replicating the natural gas in a new compound, AP39, to reap its health benefits.
- - Meghan DeMaria

Jul 13, 2014
They will find that California emitted more CO2 into the atmosphere than all the chemical and power plants combine for 5 years, with one forest fire. When are they going to manage their wild lands and save the planet?

Jul 14, 2014
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Aug 27, 2014
Is this 7 million tons in the second to last par correct? "Specifically, the researchers found satellite data showed livestock emitted 13 million tons of methane over the summer in 2004 (the EPA reported 9.7 million tons). They found the satellite data also showed that the combined emissions of the oil and gas industry amounted to 7 million tons (the EPA reported 9.9 million tons)."

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