All About Methane

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Methane FAQ

Methane (CH4) is one of the four main greenhouse gases. Composed of one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms, it’s colorless, odorless and extremely flammable.

Methane comes from many different sources. It is naturally produced as organic material decomposes in low oxygen environments (swamps, landfills), it leaks from mud volcanoes, it’s in underground fossil fuel deposits and is emitted by rice fields. It even comes from termites! But human activity is far and away the largest source, causing between 50 and 65 percent of total US methane emissions. 

According to the EPA, three industries are responsible for the lion’s share of methane emissions: 1. Agriculture (36%), 2. Energy (30%), 3. Landfills (17%).

Methane is over 80x more potent than carbon dioxide and has been increasing at an alarming rate–it’s atmospheric concentration has more than doubled since the industrial revolution. According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) we need to reduce global methane emissions by 40-45% by 2030 to meet The Paris Agreement’s 1.5° C temperature rise target.

We all feel the day to day effects of methane when it comes to air quality. Methane is one of the main contributors to ground-level ozone formation, which can cause chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and congestion. We can attribute approximately half a million premature deaths a year globally to ozone increases caused by human-generated methane.

What makes methane so dangerous is actually its biggest advantage when it comes to combating climate change: Methane is extremely potent when it comes to warming, but it also has a much shorter lifetime in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. This means that if we act quickly we can make an immediate impact. Using currently available mitigation measures, we could reduce methane emissions caused by human activities by as much as 45% by 2030.

Responsible corporate practices, including assessments and continuous monitoring, across the energy supply chain–from exploration and production all the way up to utilities–can help us chart a new course. Coupled with rigorous corporate governance practices, responsible production will set us on the path towards a clean energy future.

While carbon emissions have been the main focus of climate change to date, awareness for methane is on the rise. There are cost effective ways for many industries to reduce methane emissions, but past systems of measurement have relied largely on estimates and outdated models.

Simply put: you can’t reduce something if you can’t measure it. An accurate assessment of emissions, especially when it comes to the top methane-producing sectors (agriculture, energy and landfill) is the first step in reducing atmospheric methane. Gathering actionable data allows us to quantify the problem and tackle it head-on.