• Where Does Methane Come From? - Energy

Air Monitoring

Where Does Methane Come From? - Energy

Feb 16 2022

There are roughly 1,800 parts per billion of methane in our environment. That’s not a significant amount; to contextualise it, it’s approximately 200 times less concentrated than carbon dioxide, or an amount equivalent to half a litre of water inside an entire swimming pool. Nonetheless, methane is an extremely powerful greenhouse gas, with a global warming potential (GWP) 80 times greater than that of CO2 over a period of 20 years.

As a naturally occurring element in our environment, there are a variety of different sources and uses for methane, some of which predate human activity. However, there’s no denying the fact that methane concentrations in our atmosphere have more than doubled since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, significantly contributing to climate change. As the energy industry is one of the chief sources of manmade methane emissions, it’s one which requires close scrutiny and comprehensive monitoring. Here’s a breakdown of those sources in isolation.

Natural gas

Although natural gas does contain other hydrocarbons such as ethane, propane and butane, it is principally composed of methane. Depending on the reserve in question, methane can comprise anywhere from two-thirds to 85% of natural gas extracted for fuel. This means that any leakage in the entire chain, whether it be at the point of extraction, throughout its distribution or during its combustion, will leak methane directly into the atmosphere.

Coal

Coal mining is another key source of methane emissions. This is due to the fact that small pockets of the gas can become trapped inside and in between coal deposits deep under the Earth. When coal is extracted, crushed and processed during the mining process, it can release these pockets of methane into the atmosphere. What’s more, coal mines will continue to release methane slowly but steadily long after they have been discontinued or abandoned.

Oil

Oil reserves are also notorious for containing substantial amounts of methane. As with natural gas and oil, these can become compromised at any stage of the oil extraction, refining and combustion process. The deposits themselves are negatively affected by the drilling process, at which point some methane is released, while it also leaches into the atmosphere during storage, distribution and use. This is just one of the many reasons that oil is viewed as a chief contributor to climate change.

Biofuels

Indeed, fossil fuels are undoubtedly the biggest anthropogenic emitter of methane, responsible for a third of human emissions. However, biofuels also play their part, since biomass contains methane as part of its makeup. Given that some 2.7 billion people use solid biofuels for cooking, lighting and heating their homes (mostly in developing and impoverished countries), the emissions generated by biofuel combustion equate to around 12 million tonnes per annum, which is no negligible sum.

If you are interested in learning more about how the energy industry contributes to methane emissions and how the sector is keeping tabs on the situation, the upcoming Industrial Methane Measurement conference will take place on the 8th and 9th June in Rotterdam in the Netherlands. Please visit the link above to learn more and register your interest.


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