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The level of methane in the atmosphere has risen dramatically in the last decade—and climate scientists are worried. Although there's still roughly 60 times less of it floating around than carbon dioxide, the gas heats the planet 86 times more intensely than CO₂ over a 20-year period, meaning that it accounts for about a quarter of human-caused global heating we're experiencing today. And because it's so potent in the short-term, fluctuations in its levels can have large and rapid impacts on how much global temperature rises in the next few decades.
The trouble is, the research community hasn't been able to work out conclusively what's most to blame for the increase. Some previous work has suggested that biological sources such as tropical wetlands, rice cultivation, or animal agriculture were the main culprits. But according to new research, chemical fingerprints point to a different source—natural gas.
Cornell - University - Study - Gas - Production
The Cornell University study indicates that natural gas production is responsible for two-thirds of the sizable rise in global methane emissions between 2008 and 2014—with shale gas produced by fracking accounting for more than half of this increase.
So how could so much be escaping? Multiple stages of the fracking process, in which shale rock is fractured to release trapped oil or gas, result in gas being deliberately vented or flared. In the U.S., during commercial extraction, gas not suitable for consumption may be vented or flared. Gas is similarly vented to regulate pressure during compression and storage. Wells and pipelines are also emptied whenever they need routine testing or maintenance, so that works can be performed without risk of explosion.
Addition - Deliberate - Processes - Proportion - Methane
In addition to these deliberate and necessary processes, a proportion of methane emissions from fracking is accidentally released, due to leaks and other more infrequent but more serious incidents. For example, in Argentina's Vaca Muerta, one of the...
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