Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan

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Professor Kort finds methane hotspot in U.S. Southwest

Posted: October 10, 2014

Professor Kort finds methane hotspot in U.S. Southwest

By: Nicole Casal Moore

Assistant Professor Eric Kort is the lead author of a study that found an unexpectedly high amount of methane escaping from the Four Corners region in the U.S. Southwest.

The researchers mapped satellite data to uncover the nation's largest methane signal seen from space. They measured levels of the gas emitted from all sources, and found more than half a teragram per year coming from the area where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah meet. That's about as much methane as the entire coal, oil, and gas industries of the United Kingdom give off each year.

Four Corners sits on North America's most productive coalbed methane basin. Coalbed methane is a variety of the gas that's stuck to the surface of coal. It is dangerous to miners (not to mention canaries), but in recent decades, it's been tapped as a resource.

"There's so much coalbed methane in the Four Corners area, it doesn't need to be that crazy of a leak rate to produce the emissions that we see. A lot of the infrastructure is likely contributing," said Kort.

Kort says the controversial natural gas extraction technique of hydraulic fracturing is not the main culprit.

"We see this large signal and it's persistent since 2003...That's a pre- fracking timeframe in this region. While fracking has become a focal point in conversations about methane emissions, it certainly appears from this and other studies that in the U.S., fossil fuel extraction activities across the board likely emit higher than inventory estimates."

To read more, please visit Michigan News.

This research has been featured in Time magazine, ABC news, NBC news and Climate Central.

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