MILLINOCKET, Maine, April 16, 2015 — Scientists have been observing a mystery for the last dozen years or so. Near the Four Corners area, where the borders of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah meet, there is a methane “hotspot” in the atmosphere.
Satellite observations between 2003 and 2009 indicate that the hotspot releases on average 0.65 million tons of methane each year – which is nearly 10 percent of the yearly emissions for methane in the U.S.
Climate activists are quick to assume that extensive hydraulic fracturing or fracking, as it is popularly known, is responsible for the presence of the methane gas.
However, a new study by Eric Kort of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, notes that the years studied predate the use of fracking in the area near the hot spot.
This would indicate that the methane emissions may not be caused by fracking but by leaks in natural gas production in New Mexico’s San Juan Basin, said to be the most active coalbed methane region in the country.
Natural gas is 95-98 percent methane. Methane is colorless and odorless, making leaks hard to detect without scientific instruments.
Coalbed methane lines pores and cracks within coal seams underground. It is a volatile gas that causes explosions almost every year as it seeps out of the rock.
After the U.S. energy crisis of the 1970s, techniques were invented to extract methane from the coal and use it for fuel. By 2012, coalbed methane supplied about 8 percent of all natural gas in the United States.
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