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  • Writer's pictureDoug Hull

Sometimes gas slips out..

Updated: Oct 23, 2021

All the focus and discussion around climate change these days seems to centre on carbon dioxide - with talk of 'carbon footprints', 'carbon taxes' and 'carbon capture', but there is another large gassy elephant in the room - methane! Methane is a significantly more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, however it is relatively short lived in the atmosphere and degrades after 9 years (on average) compared to CO2 which can last 100 years. These numbers mean that we should really be fast-tracking the reduction of methane emissions now and not coupling it to the longer term carbon reduction plans under discussion around the globe. This blog will touch on the sources of methane emissions (yes there may be some reference to farting - apologies in advance!), and zoom in on one potential 'quick win' available in this space.

So where does methane come from? The primary sources of naturally emitted methane are wetlands, peat bogs and swamps, but other sources include volcanoes and wildfires. Interfering with these natural methane sources is not ideal, so lets rather look at methane emissions influenced by humans. People usually think of farting cows, and the meat industry here (see my previous blog post) and this is a significant contributor, but changing people's eating habits and preferences is going to be a slow process. Remember too that vegans fart up to seven times more than non-vegans! Anyway, enough about farting, lets talk about a huge and arguably fixable problem - leakage from gas plants and pipelines.

A recent analysis performed by the Clean Air Task Force (CATF) using costly infrared camera equipment identified a large number of major methane leakages from gas plants across Europe. It also identified a high level of intentional methane release, known as 'venting'. These leakages have historically been very hard to detect and since no legislation is in place to punish offenders, there is not much urgency to repair leaks or reduce venting. Things do appear to be changing now, with the recent signing of a Global Methane Pledge by the USA and EU to reduce methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030, and there is growing awareness of the importance of preventing gas leakage. The interesting factor here is that the cost benefit (in reducing leakage losses) will almost always be more than the cost of implementing the repairs themselves! So there is no financial reason for these companies not to clean up their act.

Natural gas as an energy source is attractive in many ways. Australia talks of a gas-fired post-Covid recovery, and much of the world is still heavily dependant on gas (as the current UK energy crisis confirms). It has a lower carbon footprint than coal, and has a much lower requirement for fresh water than nuclear energy, so gas is still a major part of the energy picture and will be for the medium term. The challenge will be to clean this sector up and urgently eliminate leakages otherwise the use of gas is just not viable. We also have to remember that natural gas is not a renewable resource - we should really try to learn our lesson and move away from the use of finite resources.

I believe it makes sense to prioritise methane reductions, and it seems this will be a strong theme at COP26 this year. The climate change war is huge and overwhelming so policy makers will need to prioritise carefully and focus on the 'quickest wins' first - cleaning up the gas sector should be top of the list!

Until next time!


aka The Regeneralist

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