Solving the Methane Problem

By PSU EcoMerge Capstone - 1:40 PM

Methane accounts for nearly 9% of domestic greenhouse gas emissions, and are predicted to increase through 2030 if actions are not immediately taken. Methane makes up a small portion of the atmosphere compared to carbon dioxide, but it is a significant component of the greenhouse effect. Methane molecules absorb 20-30 times more infrared energy than carbon dioxide molecules in their respective lifetimes in the atmosphere, and their overall contribution to the greenhouse effect is estimated at 18% compared to 63% for CO2. Add this potency to the fact that it has a short lifespan in the atmosphere of between 9-12 years (compared to 100 years for CO2), and you can start to see why cutting methane emissions now could make sense.

Methane is also the primary component of natural gas, and therefore its leaking represents a loss of useful material. It’s been suggested that the reduction of methane emissions will not only positively impact global warming, but the recovery of the gas that would have been emitted will improve power generation through natural gas.

Methane comes from a variety of sources including:
-Coal mines
-The oil and gas sector

All of these sources contribute to the accumulation of methane in our atmosphere, and therefore all must be addressed if the problem is to be halted entirely. One scary fact is that a large proportion of methane emissions is natural, and cannot be stopped easily. Wetlands, for example, produce a significant amount of methane, but cannot simply be drained, as this will result in a release of CO2. Scientists such as Dr. Vincent Gauci have studied this problem, but have come to the conclusion that a solution is not easily within reach.

The largest unused method of reducing man-made emissions is regulation. Many reports have been made demonstrating the effects these regulations could have on these emissions, in many cases reducing them by up to 40%.  Rules implemented by the EPA could act to severely cut down the man-made methane emissions, while further studies into the natural problem could develop a definite solution to methane released from wetlands and melting ice. Acting now is absolutely essential, as independent research suggests that even EPA reports are recording only half of the actual methane emissions the world is experiencing.
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