New environmental policies are closing the valve on methane emissions
PEOPLE TEND TO EQUATE MAN-MADE ENERGY
infrastructure with climate change—oil wells are seen as heavily polluting, for example, although windmills get a pass as clean and green. Pastures of grazing cattle don’t evoke the same sentiment, despite the fact that cattle are easily the world’s largest emitters of methane, a major cause of global warming.
A report by the Global Methane Initiative found that 29 percent of methane emissions come from so-called “enteric fermentation”— essentially the digestion of food, which leads to belching and passing of wind—while oil and gas accounts for 20 percent. Most of that 29 percent comes from livestock, which expel huge amounts of the gas. As a greenhouse gas, methane is up to 25 times more potent than CO2, but has a much shorter atmospheric lifespan (methane lingers in the atmosphere for about 10 years, while CO2 can last well over 100).
However, because CO2 still makes up a much larger portion of total Earth-warming emissions, the global push to curb environmental warming often focuses on the reduction of CO2. But there has been a tighter focus on methane emissions following the release of new climate regulations from the Alberta government, which outlines plans to reduce methane emissions in the oil and gas sector 45 percent by 2025. The regulations will stiffen rules around the construction of new facilities, as well as target existing infrastructure like leaky wells or pumps. In March 2016, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also announced loose plans to reduce methane emissions across Canada by up to 45 percent as part of a cross-border strategy with the U.S. to battle climate change.
Methane emissions from leaky oil and gas wells are not always measured, and are therefore difficult to efficiently reduce. But capturing a cow fart might prove to be even more difficult.