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Oil & Gas Have Bigger Climate Impact Than Previously Thought: Study

“We knew fossil fuel extraction – including fracking – was a major part of global methane emissions, but this impressive study suggests it is a far bigger culprit in human-induced climate change than we had ever thought.”

Peer-reviewed research published in the journal Nature on Wednesday found that human-caused emissions of methane have been underestimated by as much as 40%, leading the study’s authors to conclude that previous research has downplayed humanity’s impact on the climate. The scientists said the findings also offer hope, however, as they indicate that the benefits of transitioning to clean energy would be greater and more immediate than previously thought.

“Specifically, the researchers concluded from examining air bubbles in ice cores from Greenland that ‘natural’ fossil methane emissions are about 10 times lower and emissions from human activity—namely, fossil fuel use and extraction—are 25–40% higher than previous research has shown,” wrote Common Dreams’ Jessica Corbett.

Methane accounted for roughly 10 percent of all human-driven greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. in 2017, according to the EPA. Scientists view the gas as a significant driver of global warming, as it traps 84 times more heat over a 20 year period than carbon dioxide. By finding that more methane emissions are anthropogenic, rather than naturally occurring, the study’s authors argue that humans have more control to prevent climate change than previously understood.

“We knew fossil fuel extraction – including fracking – was a major part of global methane emissions, but this impressive study suggests it is a far bigger culprit in human-induced climate change than we had ever thought,” Dave Reay, the executive director of the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation, told the Guardian.

“If correct, gas, coal and oil extraction and distribution around the world are responsible for almost half of all human-induced methane emissions. Add to that all the carbon dioxide that is then emitted when the fossil fuels are burned, and you need look no further for the seat of the climate emergency fire.”

Trump Administration, Methane, and Fossil Fuel Production

In part of its broader campaign to cut environmental regulations and increase fossil fuel use, the Trump administration moved to remove limitations on methane emissions from new pipelines, drilling wells, and storage facilities and cut regulations on inspections for leaks in August.

In a statement accompanying the rule’s announcement, the agency stated that it is seeking comment on “alternative interpretations of EPA’s legal authority to regulate pollutants,” a move that would weaken the federal government’s capacity to impose restrictions of greenhouse gases and toxic chemicals.

The EPA noted its methane rule change was a response to President Trump’s Executive Order 13783, which ordered agencies to review regulations that inhibit domestic energy resources. The president has also signed executive orders to speed pipeline production across state and international lines.

In August, a report from Global Witness found that the Trump administration’s efforts to increase fossil fuel use have put the U.S. on track to create nearly two-thirds of the world’s new fossil fuel production over the next 10 years, in defiance of repeated warnings from scientists of the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions.

Climate policy has been a significant point of contention in the Democratic primary, with sharp divergences between progressives and moderates.

Bernie Sanders’ senior adviser David Sirota on Thursday used the new study to highlight differences on environmental policy between his candidate, who wants to immediately phase out fracking upon election, and former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg, who said “we’re not going to get rid of fracking for a while” at the debate last night.

Peter Castagno

Peter Castagno is a co-owner Citizen Truth.

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1 Comment

  1. Larry N. Stout February 20, 2020

    History demonstrates that the human species — including that branch dba USA — always does too little too late, or what was/is just plain the wrong things. We are the only species that is capable of making decisions (or non-decisions) that hasten our own extinction, and that’s exactly what we have a long, long history of doing. Methane from thawing of permafrost will dwarf all other sources of greenhouse gases. Global warming has passed the tipping point, and governments, those most-short-sighted human organizations, are keeping their feet on the tipping accelerator…aren’t you, Donald?.


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