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The U.S. Southwest has become the location of a significant buildup of methane, a popular greenhouse gas, and the buildup was caused by natural gas leaks, scientists studying the phenomenon have concluded.
The leaks are coming from wells, storage facilities, pipelines and processing plants located across Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah. A few leaks have come from untapped deposits, naturally seeping into the air. However, according to the scientists, from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and Caltech, as much as two-thirds of the leaks are likely coming from just 25 locations.
Although the buildup—or hotspot—of methane over the Southwest does not represent a health issue, methane is a well-documented contributor to global warming. It’s actually more of a contributor (between 25 and 86 times, according to different estimates) to the greenhouse effect than is the media’s favorite environmental nemesis, carbon dioxide.
The hotspot has been around since at least 2003, but until now, its source was not established. Now the scientific team used spectrometers from aboard a plane that flew over 1,200 square miles in the Southwest, the area where the biggest anomaly was detected earlier, explains lead study author Christian Frankenberg.
There is an ongoing debate currently in the U.S. about methane regulation, and the gas is inevitably found in oil and natural gas fields. The Environmental Protection Agency earlier this year stipulated that methane emissions from the oil and gas industry should be cut by more than 40 percent over the next 10 years, or by 510,000 short tons of the gas.
The agency pointed out in its report on the issue that methane is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas in the country from human activities and about a third of the total methane emissions come from the energy industry, including oil production and the extraction and transportation of natural gas.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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Irina is a writer for the U.S.-based Divergente LLC consulting firm with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.