Now, a new study finds that methane emissions from fossil fuels are between 25% and 40% larger than past research had estimated, revealing that oil and gas production is contributing far more to warming the planet than previously thought.
But the authors say the findings are not all bad news.
Given that we know where the methane is coming from, they say we can take action to reduce emissions that are warming the planet.
“This shows a large gap in what we thought was being emitted, and what is likely being emitted,” said Benjamin Hmiel, a post-doctoral associate at the University of Rochester and the study’s lead author. “So, if there’s a larger slice of the pie (of overall methane emissions) under our human agency, that means that we have control over those emissions.”
Methane sources are notoriously hard to track
The methane in the earth’s atmosphere comes from a wide variety of sources but can be divided into two categories: biological and fossil.
Biological methane is released by the decay of plants and animals in environments like wetlands, but also from human activity like cattle farming, landfills and rice fields.
Fossil methane, meanwhile, can seep naturally from underground, or it can be released into the air by human extraction of oil and gas.
Hmiel says methane concentrations in our atmosphere have soared by about 150…