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There’s NOAA Denying It: Methane Issue Isn’t One

delaware riverkeeper - Jim Willis reports

Jim Willis
Editor & Publisher, Marcellus Drilling News (MDN)


The lengths to which some warmists will go to blame natural gas for methane issues is amazing but there’s NOAA denying the industry isn’t the issue.

NOAA–the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration–contains some of the biggest kool-aid drinking man-made global warming fanatics on the planet. So we found it interesting that the mighty NOAA has just released new research that finds yes, so-called “fugitive” methane that escapes into the atmosphere is up–way up. And yes, oil and gas drilling contributes WAY MORE to the fugitive methane problem “than previously thought.” And yes, methane leaks from fossil fuel development represents something like 20-25% of of the total “problem.”

But then those same researchers, in little teeny tiny type add this (emphasis added):

However, the findings also confirm other work by NOAA scientists that conclude fossil fuel facilities are not directly responsible for the increased rate of global atmospheric methane emissions measured in the atmosphere since 2007.

That is, while the shale revolution has grown exponentially over the past 10 years, and while the rate of fugitive methane has grown during that same period–the growth has NOT come from oil and gas development. Instead, it’s coming from rice paddies and cow farts/burps.

NOAA 112815_cow_opener

Despite their own evidence and the extent to which scientists are going to measure methane from cos (see picture above), the PR people at NOAA apparently still don’t want to give oil and gas a pass. They still want to blame oil and gas for an increase in methane emissions, even though their own scientists have said “It ain’t o&g’s fault.” Here’s our evidence. Look at the press announcement on the NOAA website:

noaa - methane

Notice the headline, which pejoratively trumpets that fossil fuel methane emissions are higher than previously thought. Then, read the first paragraph, in huge type, a seeming indictment of fossil fuels as the culprit. The comes the picture of the researchers studiously researching. Then notice the teeny, tiny paragraph under the picture, that says in so many words, “It really isn’t o&g’s fault after all.”

This is a study in the art of propaganda. It would make Joseph Goebbels proud. It makes us wretch. Here you have important research from people who want to find that oil and gas are the real culprits–but honest research doesn’t find that. And, so they spin it anyway.

Here’s the full press release from NOAA:

Methane emissions from fossil fuel development around the world are up to 60 percent greater than estimated by previous studies, according to new research led by scientists from NOAA and CIRES. The study found that fossil fuel activities contribute between 132 million and 165 million tons of the 623 million tons of methane emitted by all sources every year. That’s about 20 to 25 percent of total global methane emissions, and 20 to 60 percent more than previous studies estimated.

However, the findings also confirm other work by NOAA scientist that conclude fossil fuel facilities are not directly responsible for the increased rate of global atmospheric methane emissions measured in the atmosphere since 2007.

“We recognize the findings might seem counterintuitive – methane emissions from fossil fuel development have been dramatically underestimated – but they’re not directly responsible for the increase in total methane emissions observed since 2007,” said lead author Stefan Schwietzke, a scientist with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder, working in NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory.

The upward revision in the estimate of fossil fuel methane emissions comes despite improvements in industry practices that have reduced leaks from oil and gas facilities from about 8 percent of production to about 2 percent over the past three decades. Dramatic production increases have canceled out efficiency gains however, keeping the overall contribution from fossil fuel activities constant.


The research, published today in the journal Nature, analyzed the largest database of methane measurements ever assembled to determine how much methane is coming from fossil fuel development, natural geologic sources, microbial activity, and biomass burning.

After carbon dioxide, methane is the second largest contributor to global warming. While not as abundant or as long-lived as CO2, methane is 28 times more effective at trapping heat in the Earth’s atmosphere over a 100-year time span. Reducing methane emissions from fossil fuel activities could be a cost-effective strategy to slow the rate of global warming during the next century, the authors said.

“Our study shows that leaks from oil and gas activities around the world are responsible for a lot more methane than we thought,” said co-author Lori Bruhwiler, a NOAA research scientist. “The good news is that fixing leaking oil and gas infrastructure is a very effective short-term way to reduce emissions of this important greenhouse gas.”

Schwietzke and his team, which included scientists from the University of Colorado and other universities, assembled a database roughly 100 times larger than previous ones. That improved the accuracy of their results, he said.

“A key message is that the number and comprehensiveness of measurements matter,” said Schwietzke. “The models used to estimate methane emissions are very sensitive to the data we supply them with. Our method is based very strongly on empirical data to reduce the number of assumptions that influence results.”

Methane emissions have distinct isotopic signatures that distinguish whether a sample came from fossil fuel development and natural geologic sources, microbial activity, or biomass burning.

Though the new estimates of fossil fuel emissions represent a major adjustment of the global methane budget, the study results support other research findings on another methane-related subject: what’s causing the global uptick in atmospheric methane levels observed since 2007.

Isotopic analysis points to natural or human-caused microbial sources as the source of between 364 million to 419 million tons of methane per year, or 58 to 67 percent of methane released to the atmosphere each year, Schwietzke said. Total methane emissions from all sources increased by about 28 million tons per year between 2007 and 2013.

“We believe methane produced by microbial sources – cows, agriculture, landfills, wetlands, and fresh waters – are responsible for the increase, but we cannot yet pinpoint which are the primary drivers,” he said. “If the methane is mainly coming from cows or ag, then we could potentially do something about it. If it’s coming from decaying vegetation in wetlands or fresh waters, then a warming climate could be the culprit, which means that it could be part of a self-reinforcing feedback loop leading to more climate change. Those are big ifs, and we need to figure them out.”

Future research, Schwietzke said, would benefit from enlarging the database to add samples from microbial sources like cows, agriculture, and wetlands. More data would help further reduce uncertainty about contributions from all methane sources, including fossil fuels, and would help better quantify the individual sources at continental scales.

While it takes a subscription to read the full study, we do have a copy of the abstract. Notice the last sentence:

Methane has the second-largest global radiative forcing impact of anthropogenic greenhouse gases after carbon dioxide, but our understanding of the global atmospheric methane budget is incomplete. The global fossil fuel industry (production and usage of natural gas, oil and coal) is thought to contribute 15 to 22 per cent of methane emissions to the total atmospheric methane budget. However, questions remain regarding methane emission trends as a result of fossil fuel industrial activity and the contribution to total methane emissions of sources from the fossil fuel industry and from natural geological seepage which are often co-located. Here we re-evaluate the global methane budget and the contribution of the fossil fuel industry to methane emissions based on long-term global methane and methane carbon isotope records. We compile the largest isotopic methane source signature database so far, including fossil fuel, microbial and biomass-burning methane emission sources. We find that total fossil fuel methane emissions (fossil fuel industry plus natural geological seepage) are not increasing over time, but are 60 to 110 per cent greater than current estimates owing to large revisions in isotope source signatures. We show that this is consistent with the observed global latitudinal methane gradient. After accounting for natural geological methane seepage, we find that methane emissions from natural gas, oil and coal production and their usage are 20 to 60 per cent greater than inventories. Our findings imply a greater potential for the fossil fuel industry to mitigate anthropogenic climate forcing, but we also find that methane emissions from natural gas as a fraction of production have declined from approximately 8 per cent to approximately 2 per cent over the past three decades.

Did you get that? The researchers said that 30 years ago 8% of the natural gas coming out of the ground from extraction activities escaped into the air. Today? Only 2%. That’s a pretty good improvement if you ask us.

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