Latest: NASA determines methane hotspot is from natural gas production

  • Methane and heat emitting from the Conoco Phillips San Juan Gas Plant in Bloomfield, New Mexico.


A methane “hot spot” over the Four Corners region has puzzled scientists for nearly a decade: Concentrations of the greenhouse gas were far higher than could be accounted for by official inventories from known contributors — an underground coal mine, landfills, and oil and gas infrastructure. So in 2015, NASA scientists began an intensive examination of energy infrastructure, geologic methane seeps (exacerbated by drilling) and other potential sources (“Unlocking the mystery of the Four Corners methane hot spot,” HCN, 8/31/15).

In August, NASA released a study saying that the hot spot is largely due to natural gas production. An aerial survey detected 250 individual sources, including gas wells, storage tanks and pipelines, that together account for gas emissions at rates up to 11,000 pounds per hour. Of those, just 25 “super-emitters” accounted for a quarter of all methane spewing into the atmosphere. Industry representatives dispute the findings, though, saying NASA overlooked geologic seeps to focus on oil and gas.