A new NASA study shows that natural gas is not (surprise!) a better solution than dirtier fossil fuels.
The study sought to find the source of the sharp rise in methane emissions since 2006. Research teams initially determined two possible sources of the increase, emissions from the oil and gas industry and the microbial production in wet tropical environments like marshes and rice paddies.
Methane in the air has been rising by 25 teragram (27.5 million U.S. tons) a year, or the weight of some 5 million elephants.
When breaking down the data, which NASA describes as “a detective job involving multiple lines of evidence: measurements of other gases, chemical analyses, isotopic signatures, observations of land use, and more” the teams found that an increase in the atmospheric ethane indicates increasing fossil fuel sources.
Ethane is a component of natural gas and was found to be increasing. Fossil fuels are responsible for about 17 teragrams per year increase, compared to 12 from the wetlands or rice farming, and the 4 teragram decrease from wildfires.
The rise is “substantially larger” than was previously thought.
Recent studies have estimated that leaks from oil and natural gas production, especially fracking which has risen up substantially since the year 2000, are driving rising methane emissions.
As a 2014 analysis by Stanford University concluded, “A review of more than 200 earlier studies confirms that U.S. emissions of methane are considerably higher than official estimates. Leaks from the nation’s natural gas system are an important part of the problem.”