Last updated August 19, 2019 at 12:28 pm
The growing levels of methane continues to be an ambiguous issue for science with a new report suggesting the increase could be caused by fracking.
Growing levels of methane in the atmosphere are not just caused by cow burps and farts, according to international research which suggests that spikes in the levels of this greenhouse gas can be attributed to the mining process known as fracking.
Methane goes away quickly compared to carbon dioxide
The study concludes that more than half of the increase in emissions from fossil fuels globally over the past decade could be from shale-gas production in North America.
Fracking involves using high-pressure water to fracture shale deposits underground in order to access natural gas.
Howarth suggests that if we reduce methane emissions, we can slow global warming to meet the UN’s target to keep warming below 2°C.
Howarth believes that previous studies had wrongly attributed atmospheric methane levels to sources such as cows or wetlands.
Airborne methane could be from transportation rather than fracking
But other scientists warn that the assumptions made in the paper may be questionable.
“The study itself admits that even if the increased methane concentrations were from shale that they are not a direct result of the hydraulic fracturing process,” Quentin Fisher from the University of Leeds, UK, told the UK Science Media Centre (UK SMC).
Fisher suggests that methane increases associated with shale gas production may stem from other sources, completely removed from fracking.
“The USA has an aging gas transportation network, which results in significant methane leakages,” he says.
And other scientists agreed that the source of airborne methane generated by the oil industry could be issues with transporting gas, rather than the fracking process itself.
“Transporting any gas, whether ‘natural’ or ‘shale’, over large distances is always a bad idea due to leaks in pipelines, transfers etc,” says Peter Style, from Keele University, UK.
Fracking is an area we can control
But the paper does raise some critical issues surrounding the control of methane levels in our atmosphere, according to scientists.
“Natural sources are not easily targeted. Controlling emissions from fracking, and fossil fuels in general, represents a potential policy quick fix to stemming the rise of methane still further.”
“If we can control the man-made methane emission sources that we can, then methane levels could yet be stabilised.”
You can read the UK SMC’s Expert Reaction here.