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NASA: Fracking Leaks Are A Major Source of Methane ‘Hot Spot’ in the U.S.

Aug 17, 2016 05:01 AM EDT
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NASA: Fracking Leaks Are A Major Source of Methane ‘Hot Spot’ in the U.S.
A new study from NASA examines the cause of the methane “hot spot” in New Mexico and found that emissions from the oil and gas industry in the state are to blame.
(Photo : anita_starzycka / Pixabay)

A NASA study has confirmed that the methane "hot spot" in the Four Corners region in the United States is caused by leaks from natural gas extraction.

First detected in 2003, the 2,500 square-mile hot spot was confirmed by NASA satellite data in October 2014, and is said to be responsible for producing the largest concentration of methane in the U.S., and is more than triple a standard ground-based estimate.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the greenhouse gas methane is highly efficient at trapping heat in the atmosphere and a significant contributor to global warming, over 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide. In the Four Corners region, which is the area where New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah meet, the methane emissions are caused mainly by the production and transport of natural gas from coal beds, said the NASA team.

In the study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and backed by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), scientists conducted an extensive survey of the industry sources in the San Juan Basin in Four Corners and identified 250 sources for atmospheric methane, which included storage tanks, pipelines, wells and processing plants. These sources have been releasing methane at a rate of up to 11,000 pounds per hour.

According to the researchers, 10 percent of the individual methane sources are contributing to half of the recorded emissions.

"Given the over 20,000 (mainly older) wells, myriad storage tanks, thousands of miles of pipelines and several gas processing plants in the area, the finding that the oil and gas industry is mainly responsible for the hot spot isn't surprising," Thomas Singer, senior policy advisor with the Western Environmental Law Center, said in a statement.

"Solving the problem will require the oil and gas industry to cut emissions from all sources, large and small. EPA and [Bureau of Land Management's] common sense oil and gas methane pollution standards currently in the works will go a long way to achieving this goal. New Mexicans should voice their strong support now to get these standards finalized."

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