The 'methane hotspot' identified in the Four Corners area of the U.S. Southwest can be fixed with some preventative maintenence

Study period predates the widespread use of hydraulic fracturing. | One small “hot spot” in the U.S. Southwest is responsible for producing the largest concentration of the greenhouse gas methane seen over the United States – more than triple the standard ground-based estimate — according to a new study of satellite data by scientists at NASA and the University of Michigan.

Methane is very efficient at trapping heat in the atmosphere and, like carbon dioxide, it contributes to global warming. The hot spot, near the Four Corners intersection of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, covers only about 2,500 square miles (6,500 square kilometers), or half the size of Connecticut.

The Four Corners area (red) is the major U.S. hot spot for methane emissions in this map showing how much emissions varied from average background concentrations from 2003-2009 (dark colors are lower than average; lighter colors are higher). Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Michigan

In each of the seven years studied from 2003-2009, the area released about 0.59 million metric tons of methane into the atmosphere. This is almost 3.5 times the estimate for the same area in the European Union’s widely used Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research.

In the study published online Thursday, October 9th in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, researchers used observations made by the European Space Agency’s Scanning Imaging Absorption Spectrometer for Atmospheric Chartography (SCIAMACHY) instrument. SCIAMACHY measured greenhouse gases from 2002 to 2012. The atmospheric hot spot persisted throughout the study period. A ground station in the Total Carbon Column Observing Network, operated by the Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, provided independent validation of the measurement.

To calculate the emissions rate that would be required to produce the observed concentration of methane in the air, the authors performed high-resolution regional simulations using a chemical transport model, which simulates how weather moves and changes airborne chemical compounds.

Research scientist Christian Frankenberg of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, first noticed the Four Corners signal years ago in SCIAMACHY data.

“We didn’t focus on it because we weren’t sure if it was a true signal or an instrument error,” Frankenberg said.

The study’s lead author, Eric Kort of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, noted the study period predates the widespread use of hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, near the hot spot. This indicates the methane emissions should not be attributed to fracking but instead to leaks in natural gas production and processing equipment in New Mexico’s San Juan Basin, which is the most active coalbed methane production area in the country.

Natural gas is 95-98 percent methane. Methane is colorless and odorless, making leaks hard to detect without scientific instruments.

“The results are indicative that emissions from established fossil fuel harvesting techniques are greater than inventoried,” Kort said. “There’s been so much attention on high-volume hydraulic fracturing, but we need to consider the industry as a whole.”

Coalbed methane is gas that lines pores and cracks within coal. In underground coal mines, it is a deadly hazard that causes fatal explosions almost every year as it seeps out of the rock. After the U.S. energy crisis of the 1970s, techniques were invented to extract the methane from the coal and use it for fuel. By 2012, coalbed methane supplied about 8 percent of all natural gas in the United States.

Frankenberg noted that the study demonstrates the unique role space-based measurements can play in monitoring greenhouse gases.

“Satellite data cannot be as accurate as ground-based estimates, but from space, there are no hiding places,” Frankenberg said.


Production editor: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA

Here is the study:

Four corners: The largest US methane anomaly viewed from space


Methane (CH4) is a potent greenhouse gas and ozone precursor. Quantifying methane emissions is critical for projecting and mitigating changes to climate and air quality. Here we present CH4 observations made from space combined with Earth-based remote sensing column measurements. Results indicate the largest anomalous CH4 levels viewable from space over the conterminous U.S. are located at the Four Corners region in the Southwest U.S. Emissions exceeding inventory estimates, totaling 0.59 Tg CH4/yr [0.50–0.67; 2σ], are necessary to bring high-resolution simulations and observations into agreement. This underestimated source approaches 10% of the EPA estimate of total U.S. CH4 emissions from natural gas. The persistence of this CH4 signal from 2003 onward indicates that the source is likely from established gas, coal, and coalbed methane mining and processing. This work demonstrates that space-based observations can identify anomalous CH4 emission source regions and quantify their emissions with the use of a transport model.

It isn’t hard to see why this hotspot appears. An examination of Google Earth right over the hotspot reveals a plethora of well sites:


A closeup view leaves no question:


It seems to be little more than a matter of leakage, something easily dealt with with a natural gas leak sniffer used by many utility companies and some simple preventative maintenance.

From the Four Corners Oil and Gas Conference website:

The Four Corners area, which is made up of Northwestern New Mexico, Southwestern Colorado, Northeastern Arizona and Southeastern Utah, contains the San Juan Basin which is one of the premier natural gas deposits in the United States.  The San Juan Basin has contributed more than eight percent of the nation’s current natural gas supply. Our area has produced more than 370 million barrels of oil and nearly 38 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.  There are currently more than 20,000 producing wells with a prediction of up to 5,000 additional wells targeting natural gas in the upcoming years. The United States Geological Survey projects possible undiscovered resources at more than 50 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, 148 million barrels of natural gas liquids and between 7 and 35 million barrels of oil.


I suggest that a little bit of self-policing applied as a key topic in the next Four Corners Oil and Gas Conference would go a long way towards preventing yet another regulatory hammer coming down from the EPA.

Note that the other “hotspot” for methane emissions is near Bakersfield, California, with another concentration of wells, in a state that has greater regulatory control over emissions:




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October 11, 2014 4:30 am

What does a coal bed have to do with it? This area simply has large amounts of underground methane pockets. Is that because of the coal? Fly east out of Farmington or SLC. The Four Corners and western Colorado well locations look like a massive spider web across the desert below. Would equipment maintenance help? Probably. How ’bout turning that methane eye in the sky on other concentrations of O&G operations. Might discover the same. Look at the refineries around Houston.

Reply to  nickreality65
October 11, 2014 4:48 am

Coal bed methane production is common in the US West. The methane is adsorbed in the coal, kept there by pressure of water which fills all the small spaces in minute fractures in the coal seams. The technology involves pumping the water out of the coal beds to reduce pressure, which in turn releases the methane. The methane flows to the well together with water, and eventually the water flow is reduced as methane flows increase.
The individual wells don´t produce as much gas as regular wells, but they tend to be shallow and are very cheap.
I suspect this area was singled out because it does have a nastier looking hot spot. The amount of methane coming out of a refinery is negligible because refineries don´t refine methane, they refine heavier hydrocarbons.
As the author explains, some of this could be reduced with improved regulations. But I do wonder if the methane being released as the water is pumped out may not be escaping through faulty seals…

Reply to  Fernando Leanme
October 11, 2014 4:00 pm

I agree, except that refineries utilize various cracking methods to obtain desired products and feedstocks for other processes. Cracking yields lighter hydrocarbons, including some methane. Losses of methane are usually tightly controlled: (1) it has value as fuel gas (2) methane leaks can ignite, creating an extreme hazard (3) regulators generally prefer leaks to be minimal, though CH4 is sometimes okay in certain cases (4) CH4 may carry with it H2S, a highly toxic gas.

Jeff L
October 11, 2014 4:38 am

Don’t be so quick to blame the wells that were drilled. The higher concentration areas on the map (San Juan Basin, San Joaquin Basin CA, Southern WY, West TX / Permian Basin, Midcon Basins) are all prolific hydrocarbon systems / basins. The reason wells are drilled there is because there is hydrocarbon resources to be found. And where there are hydrocarbon accumulations, there are also natural seepages that are emitted from these basins. So, without further study, one can not conclude that these anomalies are from wells as they could be from natural seepages also.

Reply to  Jeff L
October 11, 2014 5:15 am

The article is, of course, behind a paywall. I’d have to guess that they didn’t take natural seepage into account and would also guess that the planet side measurement taken from a single existing ground station as “proof” their remote sensing was correct didn’t take that into account either. As usual with these guys, what little information they let out allows the eco-loons and Climateers to scream bloody murder and those of us who would like to see facts and methodology are left in the dark… unless we pay them for the privilege of reading a report that we already paid for with our taxes… this is really getting old.

Reply to  nielszoo
October 11, 2014 7:02 am


Reply to  nielszoo
October 11, 2014 7:58 am

Really old.

Ian H
Reply to  nielszoo
October 11, 2014 11:38 pm

Yep I agree. About time scientific journals were nationalised. At the moment the scientists have little choice in using them and the publishers are charging like a wounded bull.

Reply to  Jeff L
October 11, 2014 3:45 pm

Association doesn’t prove causation. I worked on a proposed large-scale coal gasification project for Four Corners back in the 70’s, based on Lurgi technology. There are major coal reserves there, and ongoing recovery of coal bed methane seems to be a major source of the CH4, along with natural seeps. See:
The article notes, among other things, that the San Juan Basin is, indeed, a basin, and may cause higher methane concentrations simply by preventing wind from clearing out the gas as effectively as other areas. Note, too, that just because a large percentage of the methane is coming from a “small” area of 2500 sq. miles, doesn’t mean that it will be economically feasible to capture all of it. The leaks may be too diffuse and too numerous, especially if they’re natural seeps.
If there is an answer, it probably is in increased production of oil, coal, and coal bed methane. Ecoloons, watermelons, and green weenies will, of course, demonstrate for shutting down production as their answer.

Richard G
Reply to  Jeff L
October 16, 2014 10:42 pm

In California, the San Joaquin Basin is S.W. of the hot spot there, but I believe it contains the highest concentration of cattle per acre in the U.S.

October 11, 2014 5:08 am

I realise that this topic is about methane, but it links to a question which I’d like to ask.
I’m trying to understand more about the AGW/climate change issues, and I’m unclear as to whether or not CO2 can affect climate. Sometimes I see posts which imply that it is a greenhouse gas and therefore does help to retain radiated heat, others which say that the effects diminish as concentration levels increase, and others that say that it can have no effect as the increase has a cooling effect in the troposphere (if I’ve understood that part correctly). Also read stuff about the radiated heat/photons exciting the CO2 but the then heats up nearby molecules but in a random direction, so that all heat cannot be radiated back towards the earth. I can’t understand how an increase of 1part in 10,000 of CO2 could possibly have noticeable effects on the global climate, especially as there is a lot of natural CO2 created by the planet.
Any pointers or clarification much appreciated.

Reply to  keithdhinde
October 11, 2014 5:20 am

This site has a bunch of good links to papers on the non-existence of the “greenhouse” effect as well as good data on CO2. Some of the links are broken but searching for the author and title helps. Heinz Theime’s papers are really good, but every time I try and link them WordPress kicks the comment out.

Reply to  keithdhinde
October 11, 2014 5:38 am

Keith, the planet´s climate system tends to change due to what they call “forcings”. One example would be the way the Earth absorbs solar energy, which changes as there´s more ocean surface exposed when the earth is closer to the sun. This is just an example, there are quite a few cyclic phenomena which tend to alter the climate.
However, it does look to me like CO2 atmospheric concentration changes do alter the climate. If the concentration change is small then the climate change is a teensy weensy amount. The more CO2 changes the more climate change we could see. Thus the argument isn´t really as to whether CO2 changes the way the atmosphere radiates energy back to space. The argument is about how much is this change. A recent paper estimated the change would be about 1.3 to 1.6 degrees C transient response when CO2 increases from 280 ppm (the baseline they like to use), to 560 ppm (double the concentration).
This is the TRANSIENT response, which means as time goes there would be additional temperature increases over the years. The issue I see is that we do have a limited fossil fuel supply. As we exhaust the resources whatever is left becomes more and more expensive to produce. This tends to reduce demand, and eventually scarcity increases price to the point that demand peaks. I estimate the peak of demand for fossil fuels will take place during the 21st century.
This in turn takes us to the amount of warming we may see by the end of the century…and this is the reason why that 1.3 to 1.6 degrees Centigrade transient response becomes such a hot button issue. If you ask people who aren´t into climate hysteria they seem to find today´s climate quite acceptable. This means a slight increase in temperature isn´t about to be a huge concern. And this is the reason why politicians are hyping “extreme weather” such as droughts, hurricanes and tornadoes. The temperature increase people are noticing just doesn´t do the job for them, they can´t get credibility because the climate models failed to predict the current phase (surface temperature is barely increasing in the 21st century, that´s if it´s even increasing at all, the figures are so tiny people argue over hundredths´of degrees).
So what do I suggest? I think the problem is evident, if nothing else because we got a bunch of climate zombies running around blaming everything on CO2, trying to increase taxes and subsidize very poorly thought out wind and solar power generation.
The problem could be serious enough we do need to do something about it, but the something needs a lot more thought. And this includes thinking about the solution for China and India. If poorer countries can´t use a given technology and burn a lot of coal then any solutions implemented by richer nations won´t do much. I think the more thought includes both research to improve how we capture solar energy, as well as electricity storage (Batteries, capacitors, whatever). We also need to focus on geoengineering research to remove CO2 from the ocean. This would allow us to burn fossil fuels, make cement, and grow rice, and at the same time store the CO2 on the seafloor. How can it be done? I have no idea, it does need research.
I hope this helps.

Reply to  Fernando Leanme
October 11, 2014 6:00 am

“The issue I see is that we do have a limited fossil fuel supply.”
Ah, coal may be fossil fuel and there is 100s of years of that, but now we know that methane, natural gas, and petroleum derive from the planet’s core, through the neutron repulsion reaction which produces hydrogen and carbon that then percolates out in all directions. That is why we are finding gas and/or oil everywhere that we drill deep enough. It is simply impossible that EVERY part of the world was once the bottom of a swamp.
So, we have, effectively, a renewable resource that will not run out anytime in the foreseeable future. The UK thought they had trillions of cu ft of natural gas under them, but now it appears to be more like 4–8 quadrillion cu ft. Israel has found more gas off their shores than they ever imagined and could go independent of out side gas and oil sources.

Reply to  Fernando Leanme
October 11, 2014 7:28 am

Higley, that sure is a nice wish, but it´s not based on reality. We don´t have 100´s of years of anything. And we definitely don´t “know that methane, natural gas, and petroleum derive from the planet’s core”. The planet´s core is solid iron and nickel. Surrounding that is a molden iron nickel layer. Over that is molten rock or magma. Eventually we get to a “thin” layer which sits on top. Most of that thin layer is dense, volcanic rocks at extremely high temperature. As it turns out, liquid hydrocarbons can´t survive at anything remotely resembling such pressures and temperatures.
The Israeli natural gas is found offshore, in deep water. The gas basin is sedimentary, and has nothing to do with the “planet´s core”. As it turns out, hydrocarbons don´t come from the bottom of a swamp. We usually find more oil and gas on top of what used to be an anoxic sea environment. Mother nature´s oil and gas kitchens like long, if possible rather narrow, and definitely deep ocean floors (but deep lakes will do).
The key is for dead creatures to fall to the bottom of such oceans and fail to decay (this means it really helps if bacteria lack oxygen and the stuff won´t rot). Once the organic material is buried in that muck mother nature takes over and bakes those rocks just right and makes the gas and oil. The process also requires a series of layers sitting on top to capture the fluids, and also a sealing layer on top. It gets complicated, but we know pretty much how it all works. It has nothing to do with fluids coming from the earth´s core.

Reply to  Fernando Leanme
October 11, 2014 8:09 am

Mr. Leanme says:”We don´t have 100´s of years of anything.”
There are thousands of years of methane hydrates off of each coast. We only need to figure out how to get them out.

Reply to  Fernando Leanme
October 11, 2014 12:09 pm

Japan is presently extracting hydrates. Tech is done and they are moving to commercialization. About 1/3 of the USA sits over coal. About 250 to 400 years worth. We are drowning in energy sources.

David A
Reply to  Fernando Leanme
October 11, 2014 9:53 pm

Regarding Fernando Leanme
October 11, 2014 at 7:28 am
Higley, that sure is a nice wish, but it´s not based on reality. We don´t have 100´s of years of anything.
Mr Smith is perhaps to humble to link to his own writing, but he is correct in stating that we have hundreds of years of lots of things… AND

Tom O
Reply to  Fernando Leanme
October 14, 2014 11:51 am

Fernando, part of his question was that he had heard that CO2 might cause cooling. Has it occurred to you that “the pause” actually might be being caused by the increase in CO2 concentration? It is not necessarily unreasonable to consider that possibility. I am guessing that there is a finer margin between too much cooling and no plants on Earth than we think, meaning that we might need to consider the elevated concentration as a potential climate changer towards cooling. After all, the changes in CO2 concentration has always lagged temperature changes, so why not consider the possibility that it works as your thermostat, but In the opposite direction?

Rud Istvan
Reply to  keithdhinde
October 11, 2014 7:54 am

Keithdhinde, folks who claim CO2 is not a ‘greenhouse gas’ (known since Tyndall 1859) usually have one or more fundamental physical misconceptions like ground level saturation ignoring the altitude effect) or direction of scattered radiation (forgetting that onlynthendirection toward space ‘cools’. One symptom of radiative imbalance is stratosphereic cooling coupled to tropospheric warming. The reason is simple. Thebstratosphere is generally sufficiently thin and coldmthat neither CO2 nor water vapor produce an appreciable greenhouse effect. It is always cooling radiatively. If less heatbis coming up from below because of the ‘greenhouse’ effect, then the stratosphere will coll more than normal untilmthenradiative equilibrium is restored.
The essay Sensitive Uncertainty in my forthcoming ebook explains and illustrates the physics in an accessible manner, along way to assessing the major uncertainties (in feedbacks, not GHG per se) thatblead tomthe new lower observational sensitivity estimates.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
October 11, 2014 11:30 am

Rud, is it true GHG’s cannot increase heat they only decrease cooling? I’ve read this before and always wondered.

George Tetley
October 11, 2014 5:14 am

If you grow tomatoes and have a ready market you dont throw any away, more so with oil#gas producers, a tomato patch can be built for pocket change, but even a shallow well can cost much more than the average person sees in a life time, oil company’s are not poor people because they do not throw there money away. Leaks ? not in the book!

Reply to  George Tetley
October 11, 2014 7:57 am

Leaks?!?! In all books!! I am sorry to contradict you, but gas leaks are abundant… really abundant. I have yet to see a single gathering system or plant that does not have leaks, albeit small most of them, all over the place. Flanges, nozzles, valves, there are ALWAYS fugitive emissions.

Reply to  George Tetley
October 11, 2014 12:19 pm

Russia’s oil and gas production and distribution system are notoriously leaky, since it takes a certain amount of resources, technical skill and desire to track down and fix the leaks. I was once offered an opportunity to invest in fixing Russian gas leaks. The prevented emissions could be quantified and then sold as CO2 credits under the Kyoto Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). BTW, I didn’t participate, too risky in my opinion.

michael hart
October 11, 2014 5:17 am

These are anomalies, not absolute values. Small beer when you look at global values:

Solomon Green
October 11, 2014 5:20 am

The late Professor Thomas Gold expounded the theory, first propounded by Mendelev and espoused by a number of other Russian scientists, that methane hot spots occurred in or close to areas where earthquake activity had caused fissures in the sedimentary rocks permitting the gas to permeate to the surface. As a distinguished astronomer he had already noted that methane was present, even abundant, in the atmospheres of planets where no life could ever have existed. Here methane could never have been described as a “fossil fuel”. He also speculated that oil and other hydrocarbons would exist in the same areas as methane hotspots and that these too might never have owed their existence to decaying organic matter.

Reply to  Solomon Green
October 11, 2014 5:57 am

Solomon, a zany theory which seems to get occassional mention. Thomas Gold and Mendelev didn´t know that much about oil and gas generation, nor did they understand how fossil fuels react when exposed to high temperatures and pressures. Today we know the theory is wrong.

Solomon Green
Reply to  Fernando Leanme
October 11, 2014 7:07 am

The theory might well be zany but how come the methane in the planets? Or is it accepted that methane does not have to be a “fossil fuel”? Are there any cows grazing on Jupiter!

Reply to  Fernando Leanme
October 11, 2014 7:37 am

Solomon, evidently there are processes which lead to the assembly of methane and other complex molecules in space. They have been identified in molecular clouds, and as you mention in planetary atmospheres and seas.
However, the methane and liquid hydrocarbons we are producing at this time don´t come from outer space already assembled.
As you probably know Earth suffered a ruthless meteorite and comet bombardment about 3,8 billion years ago. The bombardment melted most of the surface, the temperature was incredibly high, and the atmosphere was hot CO2 and nitrogen (the temperature never approached the point where any methane could condense and rain down on the surface). If the methane didn´t rain down then how do you put it way down there? Do you think a methane cloud gets into a molten nickel and iron core by magic? What does seem to have happened is that we had life appear, and life turned the CO2 into material which would eventually become fossil fuels. In other words, the stuff is really a fossil, the end point of life taking CO2 out of the atmosphere and storing it as coal and hydrocarbons in the rocks.

Reply to  Fernando Leanme
October 11, 2014 12:19 pm

We? Russians still use it and are finding oil.
Me? I think we have both processes working.
Lots of oil over subduction zones with carbonate cooking …

Reply to  Fernando Leanme
October 12, 2014 1:22 am

I agree. Both processes at work.

Reply to  Solomon Green
October 11, 2014 5:57 am

Which is why oil and gas deposits are generally not to be found in heavily faulted and mountainous areas – its all gone, long ago. But note that the world did not end, because some natural faulting released some oil and methane.

October 11, 2014 5:52 am

What did the baseline methane profile look like before the wells were drilled? Could coal deposits in the region be releasing methane naturally, and the wells happen to be in the same location?

Reply to  stormy223
October 11, 2014 6:12 am

Yes. But the methane release from the coal increases due to the deabsorption of methane as the water is withdrawn by gas producers. This means the volume of natural seeps could be increasing dramatically. I´m not really familiar with the local geology, so I´m merely pointing out it´s a possibility.
What we are missing is the impact on the climate from the release of 0,59 million tons of methane per year. This is less than 0.1 % of the worldwide methane emissions. But it does bear watching and understanding.

October 11, 2014 5:54 am

This is meaningless as Methane is less than 1/250th of the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere and has a half-life of about five years in the atmosphere. On top of that, it is A RADIATIVE GAS, not a”greenhouse gas,” that, during the day, has no net effect on the energy movement of the atmosphere, but at night, CO2, water vapor, and methane serve to convert heat energy in the air to IR radiation which is then lost to space. That is why the air cools down so rapidly after Sunset.
We should harness and capture as much as we can for an energy source and convert it with use to CO2, which we need as much as we can get. But, any worries about natural or manmade leakage is a waste of time if it is claimed to relate to global warming that is not happening and/or climate models that do NOT INCLUDE NIGHT TIME and the night time cooling effect of these gases.

Reply to  higley7
October 11, 2014 6:00 am

Methane is a greenhouse gas, tiny amounts do have an impact. I don´t want to get into a discussion about the science, I prefer to discuss the politics associated with the global warming bruhaha.
Methane tends to be forgotten because included amongst the largest emitters are termites, cattle, and rice fields. Attacking termites and cattle isn´t as sexy as attacking “big oil”. Besides, as you say methane decays in the atmosphere and turns into CO2.

Reply to  Fernando Leanme
October 11, 2014 11:40 am

No, no one wants to talk about science, especially if they don’t understand it.

Brian H
Reply to  higley7
October 11, 2014 11:04 pm

Hear, hear. Well put. We should be maximizing CO2, and there is zero observational validation of GH theory. To cite Feynman, “It is wrong.”

October 11, 2014 6:01 am

I observed my first fracing operation in 1967 as an engineering intern, my career since has been in power generation and closely following all of the energy related issues. If not refineries and their VOCs, then the multitude of natural gas treatment plants and compressor stations. Pumping water out of coal beds around the 4 corners is news to me. The big coal mines in the four corners area are basically strip mines, i.e. maybe a few hundred feet deep. How would anyone know if this methane hot spot hasn’t been there for a gazillion years? It’s the coincidence equals cause mentality of amateurs more concerned about pleasing their boss than with scientific methods and the facts. Are methane hot spots observed above other domestic and foreign concentrations of coal? What sort of methane concentrations do major gas fields in Siberia, Middle East, display? I’ll wager their maintenance is worse than in the Four Corners. I guess the CO2 hiatus is running out of gas so it’s time to trot out the methane demon. Whatever happened to that recently launched CO2 satellite? Did it turn out that the data still needs some “adjusting?”

Reply to  nickreality65
October 11, 2014 11:13 am

Calibration has been completed. The plan is for NASA to start publishing data early next year.
Should be quite interesting.

October 11, 2014 6:05 am

We now know about the coal demon, but we’ve found yet another source of abundant and affordable power to demonize. Google this one and check the over-abundance of pages of prepared SEO postings about some small planetary blips – as if it was a WW3 declaration.
Let’s not consider the dirty and dangerous nuclear alternative:
And then there’s the Hydro Power time bomb:
That just about covers all their bases except windmills and roof panels, I guess. Good luck next winter.

Mickey Reno
October 11, 2014 6:12 am

This area is very dry as a general rule, and prone to monsoon rains. During the dry periods, maybe a lot of methane escapes naturally. It seems like the area on the satellite photo is too large to be explained by a few leaking wells, but could be explained by large natural leakage. The shallow coal beds have wells because they’re cheap and easy to drill. Did they actually look at the well structures and piping, or did they just look at Google Earth photos and then make up a story? Did they interview the well owners to see if they were doing regular maintenance? Did they study the space based measurements during a wet period? Is there a regular pattern to the methane hot spot that repeats during wet and dry periods? And finally, is this yet another case of deciding causality (and blaming humans) before knowing the whole story?

Don Bennett
October 11, 2014 6:19 am

From my cursory inspection of the close-up picture of the wellsites, there doesn’t appear to be any electrical powerlines to the wellsites which means the wellsite facilities do not have conventional electrical power. Plus no solar panels, or large ones anyway, were apparent either. My best guess is that the wellsite facilities’ instrumentation are pneumatic with the wellstream (natural gas) as the pneumatic gas. Pneumatic instruments will bleed the pneumatic gas during operation (not necessarily continuously) particularly in a ESD (Emergency Shut Down) situation such as high (or low) pressure in the system. Instruments (and control valves) will also bleed gas in the typical control situations such as liquid level (water and/or oil) control in the production separator or a dehydration unit. Of course, all this pneumatic control is routed through tubing with many connections which can also be a source of leaks. Good maintenance will find and fix leaking connections and faulty instruments.
As to electrification of the field, it’s all a question of economics; in other words, will the investment in the powerline and electrical end devices payout over the life of the field. Those can be interesting economics to run with all the guesses that have to be put in the economic models (field life, investment cost, electric power rates, etc.).
Note that there may be (and probably are) small solar panels on the each of the wellsites as there are probably are RTU’s (Remote Telemetry Units) on each wellsite. The RTU’s are powered by batteries charged by solar panels. These RTU’s report via radio back to a central location well status (on or shutdown) and possibly other discrete (on/off) conditions.
No, I’m not an automation or instrumentation engineer but I had to provide the locations and instrumentation connection points to the techs for all their equipment. Plus nothing started up nor ran without it so we paid attention to it’s installation (is anything that can freeze up insulated?) and good operation and ease of maintenance (can a pumper or tech get to the instrument to easily and safely to maintain it?). I can imagine a sever cold snap in the SJB will create havoc with the wellsite facilities if the operating staff doesn’t have experience with those type of conditions. -30 to -40°F conditions in SW WY will ferret out all the poorly weatherized facilities in the fields so I imagine 0 to -10°F (may be lower) might do the same thing in the SJB.

Reply to  Don Bennett
October 11, 2014 7:32 am

Maybe there’s natural gas dynamic purging of storage tank ullage.

Reply to  Don Bennett
October 11, 2014 7:40 am

Me too. One of the first jobs I had as an engineer in the oil industry was replacing natural gas pneumatic systems with air driven systems. In our case we just wanted to get as much gas as possible into the intrastate market, which paid an incredibly high price (in today´s dollars we were getting over about five times today´s price).

October 11, 2014 6:25 am

Methane is very efficient at trapping heat in the atmosphere and, like carbon dioxide, it contributes to global warming.

There is nothing to “fix”. There hasn’t been any global warming for 18 years. Neither CO2 nor Methane has any effect whatsoever.

Reply to  Amatør1
October 12, 2014 1:32 am

Well said. There is obviously no problem with global warming, whatever the cause. The climate models based on the assumptions of the AGW crowd failed. It’s time to cut the funding for fixing and studying non problems and start addressing the real problems of the world.

Proud Skeptic
October 11, 2014 6:31 am

I’m a novice here…Is this methane leakage reflected in the climate models? Or is it too small to be significant? I ask this because if this methane isn’t covered in the models and methane is such a powerful GHG AND the Earth isn’t warming as the models predicted then it seems to me the models are worse than we thought.

Reply to  Proud Skeptic
October 12, 2014 6:00 am

Problem one, the climate models don’t represent anything approaching reality right now so adding or subtracting methane doesn’t really matter. Second, there is no such thing as a greenhouse gas. It is a fictional construct that does not follow currently validated gas law or the laws of thermodynamics that describe everything else happening on the planet. The “greenhouse gas” theory requires math that allows for the construction and operation of perpetual motion machines. The so called “greenhouse effect” when it comes to planetary atmospheres should be called the “atmosphere effect” instead.

Frank Ch. Eigler
October 11, 2014 6:45 am

“It isn’t hard to see why this hotspot appears. […] A closeup view leaves no question:”
Someone with your experience battling possible misattribution of global warming causes might want to hold back just a little before declaring “no question” on anything like this.

Reply to  Frank Ch. Eigler
October 11, 2014 4:28 pm

I think by “hotspot” the author meant “area of high methane concentration,” not “temperature” hotspot as it appears you interpret him.

Frank Ch. Eigler
Reply to  Jeffrey
October 12, 2014 1:31 pm

I’m not assuming that. I’m wondering only why Anthony’s 100% sure about attributing the methane to leaky pipes & lack of preventative maintenance. It’s not like him.

October 11, 2014 6:55 am

It’s been a long time since I was in a gas field, but just like power generation, pneumatic I&C has been replaced with electronic which could be powered w/ batteries, small generator, solar. The big pumping units/jacks moving liquids will usually have motors and feeds. If the four corners gas fields are leaking methane from instrumentation, etc. what should we expect from the Bakken fields in ND? If the same isn’t seen, why not?

October 11, 2014 7:05 am

This has to be one of the stupidest things I’ve seen… only looks like a hot spot because they picked the one dot in a field of blue and green……

October 11, 2014 7:09 am

““It isn’t hard to see why this hotspot appears. […] A closeup view leaves no question:”
settled science then.
the entire point of this paper is missed.

Reply to  Steven Mosher
October 11, 2014 7:51 am

I see… giving the government ammunition to regulate a small micro-dot….when it wouldn’t even show up compared to natural sources

michael hart
Reply to  Latitude
October 11, 2014 8:11 am

It is the classic environmentalist mentality that ‘if you can measure something then you should devote time and resources to doing so’ coupled with ‘if you can detect a chemical, then it is significant and bad’.

michael hart
Reply to  Latitude
October 11, 2014 9:05 am

I also note that the same author has recently published methodology to determine the source of environmental methane by measuring the ethane content of the gas.
The abstract of the current paper makes no mention of any attempt to do so. Perhaps that will require an extra dose of the folding stuff.

Reply to  Anthony Watts
October 11, 2014 10:24 am


Reply to  Anthony Watts
October 11, 2014 7:25 pm

Amen, Anthony!

Reply to  Steven Mosher
October 11, 2014 4:31 pm

I agree with Anthony below, Steven. Open your wise mind to us on “the whole point of the paper” if you pretend you apprehend some profound truth that we mere mortals miss.

Richard G
Reply to  Jeffrey
October 16, 2014 10:31 pm

I think Steven Mosher treats WUWT like his own personal Mosh Pit.

October 11, 2014 7:12 am

Methane is very efficient at trapping heat in the atmosphere and, like carbon dioxide, it contributes to global warming.
Not aware of the 18 years of no warming I guess.

October 11, 2014 7:24 am

Patterns of well sites like this are all over the country, yet no “hot spot.” It may be that methane is leaking through the soil? I wouldn’t pin the cause on leaks from surface equipment without further investigation.

October 11, 2014 7:29 am

Actually, it looks like Louisiana swamps are the cause of a lot of methane emissions.

Reply to  jim2
October 11, 2014 8:19 am

Does everyone realize the pretty pictures are showing PPB, and not PPM? Variance is roughly 70PPB, or 0.07PPM.
What is the accuracy of the equipment producing these graphics, when was it last calibrated, and was the data “adjusted” prior to plotting?

Reply to  Brad
October 11, 2014 5:23 pm

Nevermind; when we go to parts per trillion, the increase in the number of molecules will be astounding!

Gary Pearse
October 11, 2014 8:31 am

Re methane origins: Yeah, there are methane seas and atmospheres on planets/moons but this isn’t an either-or type of situation. No one would argue that the methane in coal doesn’t come from organic activity. Coal itself has some spectacular tree and other plant fossils in it in some localities:
Neither would we argue that bogs don’t produce methane. In the taiga bogs of northern Canada, a cool trick was to stomp on a floating bog (grown over lake) and light your lighter – a magic puff of flame would jump up at your feet. There is no question buried organic material of any kind could produce methane.
I have a friend who does surveys for clients in prospective regions for oil and gas using a “sniffer” instrument. I was always a bit leary of the effectiveness of this sort of thing, but today, looking at the color on the global methane map, coinciding with all the hydrocarbon basins – I’m convinced! Also, I’m convinced that the world’s oil and gas basins contribute naturally most of that measured in the atmosphere. We are a marginal player. Indeed, by drawing out the gas from these reservoirs, we are reducing the pressure that pushes out the natural additions. I would say there is a good chance we are a net reducer of methane going into the atmosphere. Sure, okay, fix the leaks – they will do that because its a valuable commodity.

Joel O'Bryan
October 11, 2014 8:36 am

do the gas company’s leak detectors detect methane directly or the odorant, mercapten?

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
October 11, 2014 9:06 am

If you can’t smell it, it isn’t a problem. The gas company uses ethyl mercaptan as the odorant. It can be detected at less than 1 part per billion.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  jim2
October 11, 2014 12:59 pm

That was my point. The methane coming from wells or leaky pipes and pumps in the well fields have NOT had the mercaptan added yet. Takes specialized highly sensitive spectrometers to detect low amounts of pure methane.

Reply to  jim2
October 11, 2014 4:18 pm

Draeger tubes for methane are about $20 each. It’s only a problem at low concentrations if there’s H2S in it.

Steve R
Reply to  jim2
October 12, 2014 6:45 pm

They use a type of organic vapor meter called a flame ionization detector. It’s fairly expensive, but it is a widely used piece of equipment. It’s pretty routine for people who make a living sniffing the soil when a gasoline station pulls its tanks for inspections.

Rud Istvan
October 11, 2014 9:00 am

Preventative maintenance will not solve the San Juan basin hotspot.
San Juean coal is gassy, proven by thousands of coalbed methane wells. It is also shallow, proven by massive strip mines. (Google images San Juan basin coal mines). Every bit of that strip mined coal will uncontrollably outgas. Hence an uncontrollable- unless the angle is to shut down the coal mining entirely.
But it is still not to worry. Insignificant compared to Amazon, Congo, or Siberian production from rotting vegetation as the result of Archea bactial decomposition of organic matter. Same bacteria that produce bovine flattulance and biogenic methane hydrate. Maps and comments above thread make this second point quite vivid.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
October 11, 2014 4:09 pm

Yeah, you’re right. Note also that the reason they strip mine is that the coal seams are near the surface. That alone can result in millions of natural seeps that no amount of preventive maintenance will address. The bigger problem facing us is academic flatulence.

October 11, 2014 9:01 am

Using Google earth I spent an hour or so looking at the subject area. Clearly, there are a lot of well sites in the local hot-spot zone. But, there are several other regions similarly littered with well sites that are outside of the hot spot–in background blue regions. For example, check out the area west of Trinidad, Colorado toward the eastern side of the state. That exception suggests that the # of well sites v. methane correlation is not a strong one.
I did note that the orange and red regions are roughly proportional to the area of river valley in the region–just eyeballed it. Maybe the natural geological features in that region permit higher natural seepage due to proximity of the gas to the surface and depth of the river valley. Although I realize that’s not near as sexy as blaming it on the drilling companies and proposing stricter regulation as a solution.
The information presented in the article is insufficient to reach the conclusions presented.

October 11, 2014 9:26 am
There are currently 20,000 operating gas AND oil wells in the San Juan Basin. Wet, dry, shale, sands, shallow and deep drills.

Bill Illis
October 11, 2014 9:29 am

Required watching for any methane commenter. Methane concentrations in the atmosphere from the AIRS instrument on the Aqua satellite. Every day from 2002 to 2008 although at lower resolution. But still a completely different picture (and some funky music to go along with it).

Michael Cox
Reply to  Bill Illis
October 11, 2014 2:37 pm

Very nice, thanks. Looks like most emission comes from heavily forested areas, so we’d best chop all that down right away to prevent global warming…

Reply to  Michael Cox
October 11, 2014 5:37 pm

It also appears to me that the concentrations are higher during the winter months than the summer months. But maybe I’m wrong. It would be interesting to see a smoothed monthly variation.

Bill W
October 11, 2014 11:08 am

Unless my eyes deceive me, there is another elevated concentration of methane in West Central Ohio, where there is no fracking going on, next to no industry, and a below average concentration of natural gas pipelines. Not much except acres and acres of corn and soybeans. Oh yes, there are also a garbage-load of wind turbines in Paulding and Van Wert Counties.
Perhaps the authors and many of the commenters here are over-analyzing the 4-corners hot spot?

Reply to  Bill W
October 11, 2014 4:03 pm

Academia has been cranking out thousands of syuntists for the past decades. If they can’t over-analyze stuff, they won’t have anything to do. Think of it as a WPA project, but without the art deco.

John Vonderlin
October 11, 2014 11:24 am

It’s a small point, but the 95-98% methane composition of natural gas percentage used above refers to processed natural gas, not wellhead natural gas, the issue related to the hotspot. A quick search brought up the figure of 82% methane for typical wellhead natural gas. Water vapor, butane, carbon dioxide, propane, pentane, nitrogen and significant amounts of ethane are also present. The latter, ethane, is apparently substantially removed from the end product because of the high heat of its combustion, and instead serves as a feed stock for ethylene, and subsequently our beloved hygienic and utilitarian plastic bags.

October 11, 2014 1:11 pm

Interesting that the graph “No Data”s the San Francisco Bay, most of the coast, and the entire Olympic Peninsula.

Steve R
October 11, 2014 1:35 pm

That hot spot appears to me to be directly above the McElmo Dome. The McElmo Dome contains one of the largest accumulations of Carbon Dioxide gas within the Leadville formation. It is extracted, compressed, and conveyed via pipeline to Texas where about 1 billion cubic ft per day is used in an enhanced oil recovery project in the Permian Basin by Kinder Morgan, inc.
Geologically, the McElmo dome CO2 resource is an example of a thermally overmature natural gas field. There are a few others in the general 4 corners region as well.

October 11, 2014 2:17 pm

Doesn’t anybody have a globe anymore ?
These little specks of data must get lost in the bigger picture.

Jeff Alberts
October 11, 2014 5:44 pm

re: Methane Hotspot
I’d look for a disproportionate number of patrons of Mexican restaurants. I mean, who doesn’t love a good burrito?

Reply to  Jeff Alberts
October 12, 2014 1:39 am

Too funny. Perhaps a study of the geographical correlation between hatch chili production and methane gas is in order.

george e. smith
October 11, 2014 8:26 pm

Um ! Sir; isn’t methane pretty much the same as natural gas. Why not just capture it and burn it for cooking or hot water.
What’s the big fuss over ready available natural gas just bubbling out of the ground.
Just where the heck is Jed Clampett when you need him ??
I would venture that it is just as practical and as easy to gather up free methane to use for energy, as it is to gather up, all the sunshine that falls on the same piece of ground.
Now I would almost bet that there is more energy to be swept up from the methane, than from the free solar energy that lands on the very same piece of land.

October 12, 2014 3:06 am

To reduce the scaremongering, change ppb to ppm OR
to increase scaremongering, change ppb to ppt.
Because, as we look for the wood among the trees, the real name of the game is SCAREMONGERING.

John in Oz
October 12, 2014 4:19 am

If methane is a greenhouse gas and greenhouse gases increase temperature, does this area have an anomalously high temperature profile compared to areas without such high methane levels?
Anthony, you possibly have data for a thermometer in the area. Could you comment, please?

Samuel C Cogar
October 12, 2014 6:15 am

[article] “This indicates the methane emissions should not be attributed to fracking but instead to leaks in natural gas production and processing equipment in New Mexico’s San Juan Basin, which is the most active coalbed methane production area in the country”.
Really now, ….. but …………….
Shouldn’t that satellite be seeing a methane “hot spot”, or at the very least a “warm spot”, over eastern Kentucky, Wyoming and/or West Virginia?
West Virginia has 48,215 producing natural gas wells and is ranked #3 in the “top 10” natural gas (CH4, methane) producing states.
Which, by the way, WV has 6,000 more NG wells than the #4 ranking New Mexico (42,644). Reference:
And the “4 corners” coal production doesn’t hold a “canary” to …….
U.S. Coal Production by State
State ———— 2013 Total (Thousand Short Tons)
1 Wyoming ——- 388,345
2 West Virginia — 112,910
3 Kentucky ——– 79,949
4 Pennsylvania —- 54,215
5 Illinois ———– 52,124
6 Texas ———— 42,559
7 Montana ——— 42,231
8 Indiana ———– 38,945
9 North Dakota —- 27,639
10 Ohio ————- 25,762
11 Colorado ——– 23,789
12 New Mexico — 21,969

Maybe the winds in those “top” producing states are blowing the “leaky” methane away before the satellite can see it.

Pamela Gray
October 12, 2014 1:33 pm

That a satellite looksee and a report would be pursued seems a bit outside reasonable concern. Taken in context of the vastness of our atmosphere plus the global methane production, a little spot in Texas just doesn’t rise to my level of knicker twisting and panty bunching.

john robertson
October 13, 2014 12:13 pm

I deny.
It defies all logic that Washington DC does not score number one for methane emissions.
The concentrated BS must be outgassing somewhere.
Perhaps the $85 billion per month of papering over this BS is forcing the gas underground so it escapes via natural vents outside the Washington area.
Do I need sarc?
Unfortunately it looks more and more likely that all AGW is entirely manufactured.

October 14, 2014 12:27 pm

Before you permit yourself to get all scare-defied over more methane being released into the atmosphere and even if you buy into recent (since WWII) surface temperature rise being as a result of increased greenhouse gasses, do your research and find that methane is an irrelevant gas in the theoretical causes because of the limited bands of energy it can possibly absorb and from those two bands upon which it can act it must share that potential with one more prevalent which has already done the job almost completely in those bands leaving nothing much for methane to work upon. Those who promote gloom & doom from impending release of stores of methane wrongly assume the gas would have unlimited stores of energy upon which it could draw to heat the planet should that release occur. Therein lies the failure of this sub-theory even assuming such release is possible and imminent. There is no such pool of energy.
The energy beamed by the sun comes to Earth in the form of short waves, is absorbed by the planet, and some is transmitted back to space in the form of long waves in various bands of energy. Warmists’ Anthropogenic Global Warming Theory holds that greenhouse gasses intercept by absorption and transmit back to Earth a percentage of the long wave radiation energy in the form of kinetic heat in natural balance until humans destroy the balance by over supplying unnatural amounts of greenhouse gasses by which such process and added heat causes more of the principle greenhouse gas, water vapor, to be produced accelerating the process in an ever heightening loop of heating Gaia. Methane is a “greenhouse gas.” The misnamed process acts nothing like a greenhouse, BTW, and empirical measurements, the acid test of science, do not reflect water vapor increasing as required in proportion to CO₂ increases or even out of proportion. No increase of water vapor at all in fact has been measured among the several failures of the theory to be sustained by empirical measurement.
Methane (CH4) has only two narrow absorption bands at 3.3 microns and 7.5 microns in the radiation spectrum. Theoretically, CH4 is 20 times more effective an absorber than CO2 – in those bands. However, CH4 is only 0.00017% (1.7 parts per million) of the atmosphere. Moreover, both of its bands occur at wavelengths where H2O is already absorbing virtually all energy. Because water vapor is much more plentiful in the atmosphere than methane (or any other GHG), H­2O absorbs vastly more energy and is by far the most important greenhouse gas. On any given day, H2O is a percent or two of the atmosphere (1.0-2.0% or 5,882 to 11,764 times as prevalent as methane in the atmosphere, or 5882÷20=294.1 [or 588.4] multiple the absorber as methane); we call that humidity. Hence, any radiation that CH4 might absorb has already been absorbed by H2O in the only radiation bands methane absorbs energy. Once the energy in a band of the spectrum has been sucked dry, no additional absorptive gas can absorb more. Painting a black window another coat will not keep out more light. In other words, the ratio of the percentages of water to methane is such that the effects of CH4 are completely masked by H2O because the absorption of infrared energy in the bands of the spectrum affected by methane has already been saturated by H2O absorption. The amount of CH4 would have to increase 100-fold to make it comparable to H2O and even then it would no longer matter because water vapor has beat it to the punch.
There is not much ambient energy in those two little short, stray bands of the radiation spectrum to start with and most of that has already been worked over by H2O from time immemorial leaving only the scraps to poor CH4, which can never effect climate to any appreciable or worrisome amount. Because it absorbs energy in a laboratory does not mean it works that way in a chaotic atmosphere with other agents and processes present.
Learn more of what the science neophytes should have investigated before fearing methane, which is an irrelevant greenhouse gas (graphs, observed facts & all that tedious math kind of stuff) —

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