Methane: Sources & Reduction


Feb 21, 2023

Methane: What are the Options?

Shutting down entire industries to reduce methane emissions is not the answer.

Methane persists in the atmosphere for only about a decade, but holds about 80 times the heat of carbon dioxide, which persists for centuries. This rapid and intense warming can create and intensify a feedback loop that heats up the Earth’s surface, causing more carbon and methane to be released from natural sources such as Artic permafrost. Atmospheric CO2 is 200 times more prevalent than methane, but methane is 25 times more damaging to the planet.

Sources of Methane

Livestock, landfills, and oil and gas production are the main sources of U.S. methane emissions. Internationally, coal mining and agricultural methods also release methane. Estimating local, national, or global methane emissions is difficult due to lack of standardized tools and measurement methods.

Emissions from abandoned/orphaned oil and gas wells also contribute significant levels of methane.

Carbon Reduction Projects

Current federal policies focus on reducing fossil fuel emissions and implementing carbon capture to limit global warming to 2° Celsius. The Inflation Reduction Act promotes research and projects to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and industrial emissions.

Methane emissions from organic waste can be prevented with anaerobic “digesters” but researchers are trying to collect released methane from other emissions sources.

Research and projects:

  • Capturing atmospheric methane requires costly energy-intensive processing, and methane is difficult to then convert to either a liquid or solid, so Department of Energy research is focused on oxidizing methane more cleanly.
  • An MIT project seeks to capture methane using zeolite from livestock and mining sites.
  • Stanford researchers are working with methane-consuming bacteria, which feed on pressurized methane, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorous and trace metals to produce a protein-rich biomass, used as fishmeal for aquaculture.
  • Penn State researchers are working on bioreactors using engineered bacteria as anaerobic methane oxidizers to convert methane to building-block chemicals for industrial use.
  • Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists are exploring biocatalyst reactors to break concentrated methane emissions into nontoxic organic compounds and have created enzyme polymers that convert methane to methanol.

Oil and Gas Impact

The Inflation Reduction Act will impose tremendous costs on methane emissions: In 2024, U.S. facilities will pay $900 for every metric ton of methane they release. Fees per ton rise to $1,500 in 2026.

Proactive vs Reactive

While there are emerging possibilities and feasibility to carbon capture and storage, methane capture is not yet possible. Methane capture technology would significantly and rapidly reduce global warming – but pulling methane from the atmosphere is still a concept, not a reality and carbon capture and storage has still yet to be demonstrated economically at scale. Carbon capture and storage is certainly a worthwhile endeavor to pursue and important to long-term efforts to reduce emissions, but preventing gases from escaping in the first place should be our priority.

Identifying leaks and sealing them is the most effective method for preventing atmospheric methane releases at the moment and thus should be the focus of emissions reduction initiatives. BioSqueeze provides a proven, cost-effective solution for sealing methane leaks in oil and gas wells, ensuring gas is permanently sequestered via the formation of a gas-tight caprock barrier stronger than cement.