The World Is Hemorrhaging Methane

ENVIRONMENT

As countries seek to comply with the new UN climate accord by slashing emissions, both gas flaring and leaks remain persistent problems. (Nat Geo News)

Use our great activity evaluate the environmental effects of extracting natural gas.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.

Researchers estimate that 143 billion cubic meters of gas was flared worldwide in 2012, equivalent to 3.5 percent of all that was produced. Punta de Mata, Venezuela, is home to the world’s largest gas flare, incinerating about 768,000 metric tons of natural gas in 2012. Map by National Geographic

Researchers estimate that 143 billion cubic meters of gas were flared worldwide in 2012, equivalent to 3.5 percent of all that was produced. Punta de Mata, Venezuela, is home to the world’s largest gas flare, incinerating about 768,000 metric tons of natural gas in 2012.
Map by National Geographic

Discussion Ideas

  • Why is methane leaking from oil and natural gas drilling sites?
    • According to Nat Geo News, “gas flares burn off excess natural gas at oil wells and other energy sites.” Specifically, “[f]laring often occurs because oil producers don’t have the pipelines or the market for the gas that sometimes comes up along with oil; it can also happen for safety, to avoid an explosive buildup of methane during emergencies or maintenance, for example.” Learn more about natural gas with our encyclopedic entry here.

 

  • Why aren’t the world’s worst gas leaks as well-reported as the world’s worst oil spills?
    • Unlike petroleum, methane is invisible and odorless. In addition, methane emissions have a less drastic impact on the environment than carbon emissions from oil or coal.

 

  • Consult Step 5 of our activity “Evaluating Natural Gas.” Adapt the questions there:
    • How does drilling for natural gas affect the land?
      • According to the activity, “Land in the area needs to be cleared for the drilling pad. There is a lot of impact on the land during the drilling process with all of the equipment that needs to be present. In addition, there typically are a lot of wells in any given drilling area. But after the wells are drilled and fractured, there is only a small drilling pad area left on the land. Most of the effects of natural gas drilling happen under the ground.”
    • How can drilling for natural gas affect an aquifer?
      • According to the activity, “Drilling for natural gas can affect the aquifer because water is needed to fracture the wells. The aquifer can be contaminated if there is a casing failure or if the water storage pool on the surface leaks.”
    • Can you predict when a leak will happen in the casing or in the water storage pool?
      • According to the activity, “there are tests that can be run to determine if the casing will leak, but the tests are not 100% accurate; nothing can predict the future with absolute certainty.”

 

Teachers’ Toolkit

Nat Geo: The World Is Hemorrhaging Methane, and Now We Can See Where

Nat Geo: What is Natural Gas?

Nat Geo: Evaluating Natural Gas: What are the environmental effects of extracting natural gas?

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