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Massive Methane Hot Spot Detected by Satellite

Climate

One tiny section in the U.S. is responsible for a significant amount of the country's methane emissions, according to new information released by scientists from NASA and the University of Michigan.

The Four Corners area seen in red produces the largest concentrated amount of methane emissions in the U.S. On this map, lighter colors are higher than average; darker colors are lower. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Michigan

In a study published this week, they analyzed satellite-gathered data and found that an area about 2,500 square miles, near the "Four Corners" where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah connect, produces the largest concentration of these greenhouse gas emissions ever found in the U.S., more than triple the previous estimate based on ground-gathered information. While carbon emissions are more plentiful and have attracted most of the attention as the driver of climate change, methane has been found to be an even more potent greenhouse gas.

The researchers looked at data from 2003-2009 and found that in that time, that area released 590,000 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere annually, nearly three and a half times the previous estimate for the area. That's about 10 percent of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's official estimate for the whole country during those years. The hot spot persisted during the entire observation period.

Fracking has been widely identified as a culprit in boosting methane emissions. But this new analysis indicates that older methods of fossil-fuel extraction are just as harmful, with methane emissions added to carbon emissions to multiple the environmental damages from fossil fuels. Fracking wasn't widely used in the area during the period studied; the boom didn't kick off there until 2009. But it is a major coal-mining center. And New Mexico's San Juan Basin is the most active coalbed methane production area in the country, a process in which methane-heavy natural gas (composed of about 95-98 percent methane) is extracted from pores and cracks in coal to use for fuel. In the process, it produces significant leaks (and well as coal mine explosions.)

"The results are indicative that emissions from established fossil fuel harvesting techniques are greater than inventoried," said the study's leader author Eric Kort of the University of Michigan. "There's been so much attention on high-volume hydraulic fracturing, but we need to consider the industry as a whole."

In March, President Obama announced a blueprint for methane emission reduction that included addressing emissions from coal mines.

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Protesters gathered outside US Bank and Wells Fargo locations around the U.S. to protest investment in the Dakota Access Pipeline on Dec. 1, 2016. This photo is from a protest outside US Bank in south Minneapolis, Minnesota. Fibonacci Blue / CC BY 2.0

By Jake Johnson

As a growing number of states move to pass laws that would criminalize pipeline protests and hit demonstrators with years in prison, an audio recording obtained by The Intercept showed a representative of a powerful oil and gas lobbying group bragging about the industry's success in crafting anti-protest legislation behind closed doors.


Speaking during a conference in Washington, DC in June, Derrick Morgan, senior vice president for federal and regulatory affairs at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), touted "model legislation" that states across the nation have passed in recent months.

AFPM represents a number of major fossil fuel giants, including Chevron, Koch Industries and ExxonMobil.

"We've seen a lot of success at the state level, particularly starting with Oklahoma in 2017," said Morgan, citing Dakota Access Pipeline protests as the motivation behind the aggressive lobbying effort. "We're up to nine states that have passed laws that are substantially close to the model policy that you have in your packet."


The audio recording comes just months after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law legislation that would punish anti-pipeline demonstrators with up to 10 years in prison, a move environmentalists condemned as a flagrant attack on free expression.

"Big Oil is hijacking our legislative system," Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said after the Texas Senate passed the bill in May.

As The Intercept's Lee Fang reported Monday, the model legislation Morgan cited in his remarks "has been introduced in various forms in 22 states and passed in ... Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota."

"The AFPM lobbyist also boasted that the template legislation has enjoyed bipartisan support," according to Fang. "In Louisiana, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the version of the bill there, which is being challenged by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Even in Illinois, Morgan noted, 'We almost got that across the finish line in a very Democratic-dominated legislature.' The bill did not pass as it got pushed aside over time constraints at the end of the legislative session."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

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