Fun Facts About Methane

On Monday, the EPA moved to regulate six “greenhouse gases” by finding that their contribution to Global Warming constitutes a hazard to human health. One of those gases is methane, the lightest and most abundant hydrocarbon, chemical symbol CH4.

This finding by the EPA unmasks an unscientific charade and a regulatory power-grab.

U.S. Agency to Regulate Greenhouse Gases

The announcement was made late Monday and paves the way for federal regulation of emissions of six gases, including carbon dioxide and methane from refineries, chemical facilities and power plants – even if Congress rejects climate change legislation.

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson made the ‘endangerment finding’ announcement and also said that she believes it is “necessary to move ahead on new emission standards for cars, while potentially opening up large emitters such as power plants, crude-oil refineries and chemical plants to limits on their output of carbon dioxide and other gases.”…

“The endangerment finding means that we arrive at the climate talks in Copenhagen with a clear demonstration of our commitment to facing this global challenge,” Jackson said.

That’s one of the silliest — and scariest — things I’ve ever heard.

Methane, CH4, makes up about 1800 parts per billion, or less than 2/10,000ths of 1% of the atmosphere.

(By comparison, carbon dioxide, CO2, makes up about 375 parts per million of the atmosphere, or less than 4/100ths of 1%. We all know about CO2.)

Methane is a completely non-toxic, non-carcinogenic by-product of animal digestion and vegetation decay. It also vents to the atmosphere in natural seeps from underground reservoirs. The gas is much lighter than air and is the main constituent of the natural gas we burn in our houses. When burned, its residue gases are CO2 and H2O. That’s it.

Methane is supposedly 22 times more effective as a greenhouse gas than CO2, so it’s included in the EPA power-grab. Even considering that, methane’s impact is less than a tenth of that of CO2 because it’s so dilute in the atmosphere.

Unlike CO2, methane doesn’t have much staying power in the atmosphere. Almost all , of whatever source, either escapes into space or reacts with hydroxyl ions to form, again, CO2 and water vapor.

While the graph above might appear scary at first glance, note the scale. The rate of increase over the 20+ year period covered by the graph is about 6 parts per billion methane per year, and the recent trend is nearly flat. That tells you that the natural processes that regulate atmospheric methane are working.

The primary sources for the additional methane added to the atmosphere (in order of importance) are:

  1. rice cultivation;
  2. domestic grazing animals;
  3. termites;
  4. landfills;
  5. coal mining;
  6. oil and gas extraction.

If oil and gas extraction (which, incidentally, is already regulated by the various states and by the MMS in Federal waters) is the #6 source of methane, why are we subjected to pictures like the one below, as the EPA makes its case for regulation?

It’s because EPA knows how to regulate and tax domestic producers. Nobody should expect this to have a meaningful, or even measurable, impact on the environment. It will, however, make transportation, electricity, and every product made with oil and gas more expensive. And it makes for a bigger and more powerful EPA.

As for the meaningful sources of anthropogenic methane, note that more than 60% of all rice paddies are found in India and China where scientific data concerning emission rates are unavailable, and, oddly enough, the EPA can’t regulate or tax them.

Cows they can tax. Termites, however, may prove slightly more challenging.