What You Need to Know about Meth…ane

When articles are written about “health” concerns related to oil and gas production, often the offending element is methane. This tends to cause panic and concern and a justification to stop developing these important resources.

What is methane? Is it harmful to humans? What is being done about methane emissions? These are important questions, but many fail to understand that facts.

Every time you breathe, you probably inhale a few trace amounts of methane, one of the most powerful and important gases on the planet. Methane is an odorless, colorless and tasteless and is not harmful to humans.

Methane originates from several different sources.

Microbial methane is produced through biologic decomposition of organic matter at shallow depths and without extensive heating.  Swamps, landfills, glacial or other deposits, and even shallow bedrock are some settings where microbial methane can form.

Thermogenic methane is derived over millions of years by processes deep underground that produce fossil fuels, such as coal deposits and oil and natural gas accumulations. It is produced from organic matter that undergoes a transformation under high temperature and pressure.

Methane’s impact is related to environmental concerns. Methane is more than 20 times more effective at trapping in heat than carbon dioxide, making it one of the most potent greenhouse gases contributing to “global warming.” However, methane accounts for only 16 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions produced by human activities including natural gas systems, landfills, coal mining and manure-management systems.

Methane is fundamental to energy development and production. Methane is rapidly become the go-to way to power the world. According to the U.S. Energy Administration, Americans today receive 25 percent of their energy from natural gas, while coal represents just 20 percent — quite a drop from the 50 percent of a few years ago. Meanwhile, the U.S. produced more natural gas than coal in 2011 for the first time since 1981.

It is important to take advantage of the benefits of this “natural” gas while mitigating the impact on the environment. That is why the industry and the State of Colorado have implemented proactive regulations and practices to monitor and capture methane in the production of oil and gas.

Colorado was the first state to restrict methane emissions and has set the standard for the country. Regulations require extensive monitoring that takes place at all oil and gas production sites. This allows operators to detect and resolve even the smallest methane leak. Data reveals leaks are minor and rare compared to the number of sites and equipment that are being monitored. For example, oil and gas production is the 5th largest sector, accounting only for approximately 6% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in 2010.

It is important to observe that articles critical of oil and gas production will reference Oklahoma, California and other states, but they don’t refer to Colorado. That is because Colorado is taking the lead and showing that a state can be effective in promoting traditional and renewable energy resources at the same time.

So, when it comes to oil and gas production in Colorado….”breathe easy.”