As a top industrialized nation, the United States is responsible for spewing a great deal of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. But a study published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science estimates that the US dumps 50 percent more methane than the EPA is willing to admit. Methane is an extremely potent gas that is 21 times more effective at trapping heat than CO2.
Image via Wikicommons user Tim Evanson
The report states that in 2008, the US released 49 million tons of methane. This figure, which is significantly higher than the 32 million tons calculated by the EPA, was gathered from over 13,000 measurements taken from towers and airplane flights. And nearly one quarter of all methane emissions came from just three states. A bulk of the methane can be traced to livestock production and leaks from drilling operations in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas.
While the impacts of CO2 have been the subject of much study, methane is a relatively new source of investigation. Scientists have only recently begun to use computer models to predict the effects of the gas on climate change. The authors of the report are beginning to analyze the impact of hydraulic fracturing on methane levels. With a more accurate picture of how much methane is being produced by the US, climate advocates will soon realize that they have a massive new challenge to tackle.