Voluntary Methane Cuts Would Help Limit GHG Emissions

Published June 1, 2005

In February of this year, the Kyoto Protocol set binding limits on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for many industrialized nations of the world, not including the United States (which did not sign the protocol) or developing nations such as China.

Two prominent climate scientists, Drs. James Hansen and Makiko Sato of the National Aeronautics & Space Administration’s Goddard Space Institute, have concluded that if emissions of methane and other GHGs other than carbon dioxide were controlled, any potential climate change could be stabilized. Their findings were published as “Greenhouse Gas Growth Rates” in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, November 2004.

Methane is the main component of natural gas–and a major GHG that is almost ignored by the countries that signed the Kyoto agreement.

Burning Better than Releasing

Curtailing methane releases would take the nations of the world a long way toward slowing the growth of GHGs.

With little notice, industries, governments, and institutions like the World Bank have joined not only to reduce methane emissions, but to harvest clean-burning methane for heating houses, cooking food, and producing electric power in many countries, including the developing world.

How is this happening? Methane, a highly concentrated GHG, is often a waste byproduct of oil and natural gas production. Instead of burning it off, or flaring, companies are redirecting this methane for sale in local energy markets, especially in developing nations. Leaks can also be dramatically reduced.

One of the most successful of these programs is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “Natural Gas STAR” program–a successful, unheralded effort that has encouraged companies to reduce methane emissions. So far, the amount of methane diverted from the atmosphere is the equivalent of the GHGs produced annually by 30 million cars.

Overseas Reductions Beginning

Now, EPA has taken Gas STAR overseas through the “Methane to Markets Partnership” among U.S. businesses, including American Petroleum Institute member companies, and 14 natural gas-producing nations.

At the World Bank, there is the Global Gas Flaring Reduction program, which U.S. oil and natural gas companies also are supporting. The World Bank’s goal is to reduce 100 million cubic meters of natural gas that is either burned off or vented into the air each year (releasing methane into the atmosphere in either case), mainly from developing countries. That amount of natural gas would be sufficient to meet the annual natural gas consumption of Germany and France combined.

Could Cut Global Warming

Hansen and Sato say if methane and other trace greenhouse gases were reduced, increases in world temperatures would be limited to 1ºC, even if carbon dioxide (CO2) levels continue to rise.

They believe the debate over implementing the Kyoto Protocol and CO2 reductions will go on for decades. Kyoto, they say, “gives too little or no weight to gases such as methane.

“We could get moving now on non-CO2 gases with benefits such as improved human health, in addition to a slowing of global warming,” the two scientists said in their report.

Red Cavaney (http://api-ec.api.org/2ndLevelContact.cfm) is president of the American Petroleum Institute. This article first appeared in Oil & Gas Journal (http://ogj.pennnet.com/home.cfm) and is reprinted with permission.

For more information …

“Greenhouse Gas Growth Rates,” the report by Drs. James Hansen and Makiko Sato, is available online at http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/0406982101v1.