The harmful effects of many greenhouse gases and air pollutants have increasingly drawn public attention in recent years. While much of the attention has been on carbon dioxide, rising methane emissions are another danger. We must consider the environmental impact of methane.

Without a considerable methane emissions reduction, the likelihood of reaching global climate change goals is at risk. 

In addition to the risks methane poses to the environment, accumulated methane also presents another danger. An ignition source for methane can cause an explosion, a huge risk to gas companies and others working in the oil and gas industry. 

Why is Methane in the Atmosphere a Threat to the Environment?

Methane emissions are rising, primarily due to the increase in natural gas usage. Natural gas is hailed as a clean energy source, but the production process leaks methane into the atmosphere. 

Methane is the primary component of natural gas and is a powerful, short-lived greenhouse gas. It is one hundred times more potent at trapping energy than carbon dioxide, which has been the primary contributor to global warming. 

Its impact on an integrated weight basis is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide after 20 years and twenty-eight times more potent after a hundred years. It is an incredibly potent greenhouse gas. 

In addition to methane leakage due to human activities, it also occurs in many natural sources. Scientists recommend addressing these sources of methane in the atmosphere by plugging abandoned gas wells, sealing pipelines, covering up landfills, and preventing crop waste.   

Why are Methane Emissions Underestimated as a Global Warming Threat?

The reality is that methane is an underestimated threat to global warming. Natural gas is a relatively clean fuel source compared to other fossil fuels in the oil and gas industry. 

However, the problem occurs when unburned gas is leaked into the atmosphere, and it appears that there is far more methane leaking than estimated.   

One study found that methane emissions in the United States are likely 60% higher than official estimates. And because methane traps heat in the atmosphere, this discrepancy means that many current global change projections are flawed. Moreover, while methane is about 200 times less concentrated in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, methane has far greater warming potential due to its ability to trap heat.

What are the Key Sources of Methane in the Atmosphere?

Methane contributes substantially to global warming and climate change and is desirable to reduce methane emissions. While some natural sources can be mitigated through efforts, such as plugging abandoned wells, other natural sources cannot. 

Even termites emit methane when consuming wood. For example, it leaks from the ground near volcanoes and methane from thawing permafrost in the Arctic. But these natural sources only make up about ten percent of global methane emissions per year. The remaining emissions come from human activities, mainly from agriculture and the oil and gas industry. 

Cattle and other grazing animals emit much methane during their digestion, accounting for about 40% of the global methane budget. Rice paddies also increase the amount of methane in the atmosphere. 

Methane leaks into the atmosphere at drilling and extraction sites. And while there are global limits for methane leakage, the amount has steadily increased. But the most significant contributor to methane emissions in the oil and gas industry. 

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the United States produces approximately 60% more methane than previously estimated. And these emissions contribute to a quarter of the annual methane budget. 

Reducing the amount of methane in the atmosphere can have a tremendous effect on climate change. This is mostly because methane breaks down faster than carbon dioxide. 

More than ten countries have is have the correct word, we are talking in the future cut methane emissions by 30% between 2020 and 2030. If this initiative is successful, this methane reduction would have the same impact on temperature increases as switching all cars, trucks, planes, and ships in the world to zero-emissions technology. 

While it may be logical to assume that reducing methane or capturing leaked methane would be expensive, it’s far more cost-effective than many think. 

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has stated that the cost to capture and sell emissions from the oil and gas industry would result in no net cost with current energy prices. And it would have resulted in an additional 180 billion cubic meters of natural gas on the market. 

Detecting Methane Leaks Early is Crucial

Methane isn’t only an environmental threat. Methane leaks can result in stiff regulatory fines for many gas companies. And the Environmental Protection Agency has recently taken action to curb methane emissions as part of the Clean Air Act

This bill will reduce methane emissions by 41 million tons between 2023 and 2035, equivalent to 920 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. More than all carbon dioxide emitted from passenger cars and commercial aircraft in the United States in 2019. 

Non-compliance with regulations regarding methane emissions can result in stiff fines and penalties.

Detecting methane leaks is also crucial in maintaining a safe workplace for the oil and gas industry. Methane is an odorless, colorless gas that is highly flammable and combustible at 100% Lower Explosive Limit (LEL) concentrations. 

When leaked methane accumulates, it can result in an explosion once ignited. These major industrial accidents often result in the devastating loss of life and property. Therefore, these types of accidents must be avoided at all costs since they can be so destructive. 

Methane gas sensors provide an essential tool for detecting methane leaks and providing a safe working environment. Fortunately, methane gas sensors are far more sophisticated now than in the past. Unlike pellistor sensors which can become over saturated when exposed to high levels of compounds, including methane, modern sensors can remain accurate despite high concentrations. 

There is no room for error regarding methane emissions and leaks. The environmental impact of methane is dire. And these leaks can pose a tremendous risk to health and safety if they contribute to an explosion. Reliable gas detection technology is the best way to find a leak early and stop it quickly.