SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: February 19, 2020

SNIP: The oil and gas industry has had a far worse impact on the climate than previously believed, according to a study indicating that human emissions of fossil methane have been underestimated by up to 40%.

Methane has a greenhouse effect that is about 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period and is responsible for at least 25% of global heating, according to the UN Environment Programme.

In the past two centuries, the amount of methane in the atmosphere has more than doubled, though there has long been uncertainty about whether the source was biological – from agriculture, livestock or landfills – or from fossil fuels. There were also doubts about what share of fossil methane was naturally released and what share was from industry.

The findings, published in Nature, suggest the share of naturally released fossil methane has been overestimated by “an order of magnitude”, which means that human activities are 25-40% more responsible for fossil methane in the atmosphere than thought.

This strengthens suspicions that fossil fuel companies are not fully accounting for their impact on the climate, particularly with regard to methane – a colourless, odourless gas that many plants routinely vent into the atmosphere.

An earlier study revealed methane emissions from US oil and gas plants were 60% higher than reported to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Accidents are also underreported. A single blowout at a natural gas well in Ohio in 2018 discharged more methane over three weeks than the oil and gas industries of France, Norway and the Netherlands released in an entire year.

Fracking also appears to have worsened the problem. Atmospheric methane had started to flatten off at the turn of the century, but rose again after a surge in fracking activity in the US and elsewhere.