Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

methane emissions study Cornell

Fossil Fuels

New Research Points To Fracking As Cause Of Spikes In Atmospheric Methane

Researchers at Cornell are able to prove that much of the increased methane in the atmosphere comes from fracking operations. Now that we know, what will we do about it?

The amount of methane — a powerful greenhouse gas — has increased dramatically in the atmosphere since 2008. Some have suggested the increase is associated with the rise in fracking that began about the same time.

methane emissions study Cornell

Credit: Robert Howarth via Biogeosciences. This work is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

“Not so! Fake news!” screams the fracking industry. “We are providing a valuable service that helps make America great again by lowering our dependency on foreign energy producers. And even if a little methane leaks from our operations, that’s OK because we are keeping America safe! And besides, no one can prove where all that extra methane comes from, so go pound sand.” This, friends, is what passes for free market capitalism in America today.

Remember when your mother said, “You always get caught?” Well, researchers at Cornell have studied the spike in methane emissions closely and determined there really is a way to tell where it is coming from. It turns out methane from fracking has a slightly different chemical composition than methane from traditional natural gas or that made from coal. It has less carbon 13 relative to the amount of carbon 12 in the center of the methane molecule. That small difference proves the extra methane is coming from fracking. Busted!

Robert Howarth, a professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell, has been spearheading the research, which was published August 14 in Biogeosciences, a journal of the European Geosciences Union.

He says the unique carbon 13 signature means that since the use of high-volume hydraulic fracturing — commonly called fracking — began, shale gas has increase its share of global natural gas production and has released more methane into the atmosphere. About two thirds of all new gas production over the last decade has been shale gas produced in the United States and Canada, according to a report by Science Daily.

It has been widely reported that tailpipe emissions from cattle as well as from wetlands are responsible for much of the methane in the atmosphere but Professor Howarth’s research suggests otherwise. The methane from those sources has a lower carbon 13 content than methane from most fossil fuels.

Unlike its slow response to carbon dioxide, the atmosphere responds quickly to changes in methane emissions. “Reducing methane now can provide an instant way to slow global warming and meet the United Nations’ target of keeping the planet well below a 2-degree Celsius average rise,” Howarth says.

Atmospheric methane levels had previously risen during the last two decades of the 20th century, but leveled off in the first decade of 21st century. Then, atmospheric methane levels increased dramatically from 2008-14, from about 570 teragrams (570 billion tons) annually to about 595 teragrams, due to global human-caused methane emissions in the last 11 years.

“This recent increase in methane is massive,” Howarth said. “It’s globally significant. It’s contributed to some of the increase in global warming we’ve seen and shale gas is a major player. If we can stop pouring methane into the atmosphere, it will dissipate,” he said. “It goes away pretty quickly, compared to carbon dioxide. It’s the low-hanging fruit to slow global warming.”

Now that the truth is out, will the US government take aggressive action to reduce the amount of methane emissions from fracking? Not by the hair on your chiny chin chin, grasshopper. The US government as presently constituted is a staunch ally of the fossil fuel companies, even if that means shirking its Constitutional duty to protect its citizens from harm. It is basically a criminal conspiracy, just as George Carlin told us it was years ago.

I don't like paywalls. You don't like paywalls. Who likes paywalls? Here at CleanTechnica, we implemented a limited paywall for a while, but it always felt wrong — and it was always tough to decide what we should put behind there. In theory, your most exclusive and best content goes behind a paywall. But then fewer people read it! We just don't like paywalls, and so we've decided to ditch ours. Unfortunately, the media business is still a tough, cut-throat business with tiny margins. It's a never-ending Olympic challenge to stay above water or even perhaps — gasp — grow. So ...
If you like what we do and want to support us, please chip in a bit monthly via PayPal or Patreon to help our team do what we do! Thank you!
Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!

Have a tip for CleanTechnica, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.

Written By

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."


You May Also Like


Methanol is like hydrogen. Job one is to decarbonize existing uses before inventing new ones. As a marine fuel, it's not the best choice.

Climate Change

Satellite “completeness” is a new and powerful concept in the push to slash climate pollution.


Methane from cow poop is big business. Fossil fuel companies are ecstatic about the possibilities of the new "brown gold."

Clean Power

The methane industry has created a new political action campaign that targets Democratic voters in blue states.

Copyright © 2023 CleanTechnica. The content produced by this site is for entertainment purposes only. Opinions and comments published on this site may not be sanctioned by and do not necessarily represent the views of CleanTechnica, its owners, sponsors, affiliates, or subsidiaries.