Saturday, May 9, 2015

Methane Release Increases Because of Supply Chain Plumbing Leaks


Outside  Geophysical Institute in Fairbanks, AK in March, 2005. Methane there is continuously outgassing from the melting permafrost.

Today, methane - the chief component of natural gas - accounts for one fourth of global warming. Given the nasty effects of methane (it has more than 20 times the forcing factor of CO2)  one would have thought humans would take more care in not releasing any more than already estimated from natural events. (Themselves of anthropogenic origin).

In the latter case, I refer to the Nov. 26, 2013  issue of the peer-reviewed journal Nature Geoscience, in which the authors warned that the Arctic Ocean is releasing methane at a rate more than twice what existing scientific models predicted.  Natalie Shakhova and Igor Semiletov at the University of Alaska- Fairbanks' International Arctic Research Center - after a decade spent researching the Arctic's greenhouse gas emissions- have found this unexpected result.

Shakhova, the lead author of the report, in an interview post-publication, warned the methane release rate iwa likely even greater than their paper describes.  In an interview describing the work in The Fairbanks News Miner, she said:


" We decided to be as conservative as possible. We’re actually talking the top of the iceberg.” 



The researchers focused on the continental shelf off the northern coast of eastern Russia - the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. Underlying this region is sub -sea permafrost. When the permafrost melts, the methane can be released. For example, the submerged East Siberian Arctic Shelf contains much of the same stored carbon as the dry tundra to the south but also at least 17 teragrams of methane. (One teragram is equal to one million tons).

The vast carbon stores in the Arctic are also protected by the layer of sub-sea permafrost, but the new research shows it's in danger of disappearing.   Core samples taken of the sub-sea permafrost by  Shakhova et al show now the temperatures are near the freezing mark (30-32F)  Meanwhile, both the top and lower levels of sediment have already thawed. (Some climate modelers had previously suggested this wouldn't happen for five to seven thousand years.)

Shakhova added

"What we’re observing right now is much faster than what we anticipated and much faster than what was modeled,”

The consensus carbon budget estimates that more than half of carbon emissions are human-caused, but these estimates vastly underestimate the amount of carbon stored in the Arctic shelves, 

According to Shakhova:

“I believe strongly the Arctic sources are understated and need to be paid more attention,”



What is even more sobering now is the recent finding that humans are inadvertently releasing even more methane.  We are talking about unburned methane which leaks from wellheads, processing plants and pipelines all along the natural gas supply chain.  For the first twenty years after it's released into the atmosphere it is 84 times more potent  than CO2 as a global warming gas.  Thus, even small amounts leaked into the atmosphere can negate any advantage natural gas has over other fossil fuels.

An independent study commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund found the industry could cut methane emissions 40 percent or more  for less than a penny per 1,000 cubic feet of natural gas produced by leaky valves and by properly maintaining pumps and other devices.. As one EDF investigator Mark Brownstein put it:

"It's largely a plumbing problem. And plumbing is dead simple".

In response, the White House - to its credit- announced a goal of reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry to nearly half of 2012 levels by 2025. Which is totally practical - as well as economical.

Nevertheless, no less a lard head and nincompoop than James Inhofe (R-OK), blasted the plan for "imposing a mandate designed to stifle our domestic energy industries."

Actually no, lamebrain. It would in fact conserve more natural gas resources the same as turning off faucets conserves water wastage. But then maybe Inhofe is as much a proponent of wasted energy as he is the dimwit notion that global warming is a hoax.

Meanwhile, the oil and gas industry insists voluntary control are sufficient. Yet fewer than 30 of 6,000-plus oil and gas operators across the nation have taken steps to lower their emissions..

Indeed, IF voluntary measures worked we wouldn't need federal standards or "mandates".

Thankfully, the EPA this summer will propose regulations for emissions of methane from new and modified oil and gas sources.

It's about time, because we are already flirting with catastrophe and a runaway greenhouse effect given the cavalier attitude of too many-  especially posturing right wing fools like Jim Inhofe.

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