Methane is getting some long overdue attention from lawmakers.
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. It breaks down much faster than carbon dioxide – meaning, in the short term, it’s up to 100 times stronger than CO2. Methane is also the primary ingredient of natural gas, and estimates show that about a third of all methane emissions come from fossil fuel production, distribution and use. The other sources? Livestock farming is responsible for about a quarter of methane emissions, followed by landfills, which are responsible for about 16 percent of human-caused methane emissions.
WHY DON’T WE DO SOMETHING ABOUT THAT?
Good question. Methane hasn’t received a lot of air-time as a climate threat. But last year a faulty valve on a natural gas storage facility - Aliso Canyon in Southern California - caused the largest methane leak in U.S. history, which forced hundreds of people to evacuate the town of Porter Ranch. It took four months to plug the leak, during which time it had a climate impact equivalent to 572k passenger cars in the U.S.
Since the leak, people have paid a lot more attention to methane - and we’ve realized that there is a TON of seepage all over the place, all the time. In fact, in 2014, standard operations at 650 newly fracked wells in California released an estimated two thirds as much methane as the Aliso Canyon leak.
HOLD UP. I THOUGHT NATURAL GAS WAS BETTER FOR THE CLIMATE!
Yes and no. Methane is sometimes called a “bridge fuel” because it burns cleaner than coal - but that calculation doesn’t take into account the huge amount of methane seepage from capturing, transporting and holding natural gas. And we don’t have the best idea of how much that is.
We do know a couple things: the U.S. has been emitting a lot more methane than we thought, there are millions of defunct wells we can’t locate that are leaking methane, and fracking is making matters worse by creating methane “hotspots.”
SO WHAT ARE WE DOING ABOUT IT?
This week, the California legislature agreed to regulate methane emissions from landfills and dairy farms for the first time and approved $900 million in spending on environmental programs. Still, the largest methane culprit - the fossil fuels - needs to be addressed. In July, the California Air Resource Board proposed a rule aimed at cutting methane pollution from wells, pipelines and equipment. If approved, it would be the nation’s strongest methane controls anywhere.
Lord, yes. For more information, check out SFC’s methane video series that explains more about the climate, the culprit, the victims, the health and the solutions to our meth(ane) problem.