No, Natural Gas Isn’t the Source of Increased Methane Levels


K.J. Rodgers
Crownsville, Maryland  


The atmosphere is showing signs of increased methane, but contrary to popular belief, it is not natural gas nor fracking that is responsible.

Fractivists have been stretching to link fracking and natural gas to everything they can think of for years. The twisting of facts and intermingling emotions in their propaganda is 101 training for new members. It is almost as is if groups like the Food and Water Watch sit new hires in a dark broom closet and force them to watch some Wenonah Hauter training video on “How to Deceive the Public for Their Own Good.”

activist fighting fracking

PHOTOGRAPH BY Ashley Cooper / Barcroft Images

It is humorous to think about that scenario, but it is also scary enough to see it in action. Recently, the website ThinkProgress, an environmentalists version of InfoWars, posted a story covering a NASA Study that is supposedly putting the final nail in the natural gas coffin. John Worden of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California wrote the study. We’re told his team is attempting to understand the recent increase in atmospheric methane.

Since the pre-industrial age, methane has been steadily increasing bit-by-bit until 2000 when it plateaued for 6 years. After 2006, it has been driving upwards. This fact is not really in dispute.

Methane vs Fire

Worden’s study attempts to evaluate the emissions from fires (that are dropping in significance) to account for the remaining increase. By doing so, the study finds that methane must be coming from fossil fuels and wetlands as if they were the only sources. Might I remind you that NASA has fowled a few studies in an effort to point its finger at natural gas?

There is not a doubt natural gas development does involve limited fugitive methane leaks, but those numbers are highly tracked for both profitability and regulatory reasons. That is how we know there are benefit limits and we are less than halfway there with results decreasing. With that being said, methane has carbon source footprints. You can take the methane molecule and trace its origins – something apparently not limited to just NASA.

Bill Schlesinger, who writes at Citizen Scientist at Duke University says this (emphasis added):

“Many believe, or would like to believe, that the recent increase is due to increased activity by the oil and gas industry, particularly in fracking. There are often inadvertent or “fugitive” emissions from oil and gas wells that escape to the atmosphere. And based on its radiocarbon (14C) content, something on the order of 20% of atmospheric methane stems from fossil sources, in which this radioactive form of carbon has completely decayed away.

Methane in the atmosphere contains another isotope of carbon, 13C, which is completely stable (non-radioactive) but differs strongly between different sources of methane.  The concentration of 13C is expressed in parts-per-thousand-parts, abbreviated ‰ δ13C, in the atmosphere. In the past decade the concentration of 13C, has declined in the atmosphere from -47.2 to -47.4‰ δ13C. This is not a big change, but the direction is what matters.

The decline in δ13C to a more negative value is not compatible with the idea that fossil fuels are the major source of rising methane in the atmosphere. Better sources are wetlands and the belches of cow, which release methane with a δ13C of -60 to -70‰. Mixed into the methane already in the atmosphere, these emissions could account for the observed drop in δ13C of atmospheric methane.”

Interestingly enough, Schlesinger’s research references another study I wrote about in 2016. Hinrich Schaefer, an atmospheric scientist at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, lead a study for NOAA and he said:

“Greenhouse gas inventories from U.S. EPA show that emissions from fossil fuel extraction have increased in recent years. But this has apparently not registered on the global scale. This is possibly because the U.S. energy industry contributes little to the overall burden of global fossil fuel emissions.”

That’s right, methane emissions from natural gas and even fugitive leaks do not even register on the global scale.

Cattle is a source of Methane

A researcher should also consider what Schlesinger’s research is pointing to, bovine belching and flatulence as another source of methane emissions. In fact and as absurd as you think, some places such as California is attempting to regulate bovine entric fermentation. Global warming itself, whether natural or man-made, causes another source of methane. According to one study, methane leakage is being attributed to postglacial isostatic rebound rather than anthropogenic warming. There is a lot of carbon trapped in glaciers and as it melts, the decaying process releases more methane.

Ultimately, there is an increase in methane and with oil and gas companies reducing the number of emissions in yearly record-breaking fashion, one cannot just assume it’s gas without weighing all of the other sources.

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