California's plastic bag ban may be aiding an increase in the greenhouse gas ethane

This study below says that after collating the data from 30,000 air flasks taken around the world, that ethane is again on the rise due to increased oil/gas production. I don’t doubt that. But there is a factor that they may have not considered: plastic bag bans. In California, there is now a statewide plastic bag ban. Recall that plastic bags were introduced because environmentalists claimed less tree felling for paper pulp would be a good thing, and plastic bags were introduced in 1982 by California grocery giant, Safeway, according to an NRDC article.

Production has been on the rise in the USA:

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration Form EIA-816, Form EIA-914, Petroleum Supply Monthly. Notes: Natural gas converted to barrels of oil equivalent using a conversion factor of .0007161 barrels of oil per cubic foot of natural gas. Conversion factor from the Society of Petroleum Engineer

An interesting thing is that ethane (C2H6) is used for the production of plastic bags, in fact it is the only ingredient.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration 


In 2008, the Los Angeles Times had this to say about plastic bags in a story titled The Incredible Plastic Bag

Burke and Yaroslavsky talk about marine life and imported-oil used to make plastic bags. Are tens of thousands of marine mammals and seabirds killed each year by plastic bags? No. The Times exposed this as a myth based on a typographical error. The report on which the myth is based referred to discarded nets, not plastic bags. Are plastic bags made of imported oil? No — 85% of the plastic bags used in the United States are made domestically. U.S.-manufactured plastic bags are made of ethane, which is a waste product extracted from domestically produced natural gas. If the ethane is not used to make plastic, it would need to be burned off. Plastic bags are a wonderful use of a waste product.

Plastic-bag recycling bins have been installed in all large California supermarkets and retail stores since 2007. Virtually all of the plastic in those bins is recycled. Moreover, plastic bags are reused for lining trash bins, pet waste disposal and more. Reuse is the best form of recycling because it consumes zero energy.

Yet just a few years later, they had this to say in an editorial: Let California’s plastic bag ban stand

California may be the leader, but the tide is turning against plastic bags elsewhere too; cities or legislatures in 25 states have enacted or discussed plastic bag bans and fees. Why? Because more and more jurisdictions have realized that giving up disposable plastic bags is a small sacrifice that delivers real environmental benefits. If the plastics industry was really as progressive as the name of its alliance suggests, manufacturers would be investing their money in more sustainable products. But instead they keep fighting the same fight. Californians need to send a strong message: The bag ban should stand.

Now that the ban is in effect, ethane is no longer removed from raw natural gas to make plastic bags. There is so much excess ethane from U.S. production now, that it is being shipped overseas in specially designed ships:

The vessel and its twin were built to ferry a hydrocarbon called ethane from the shale basins of the US to industrial plants in Norway and Scotland. Theirs will be the first voyages in a nascent seaborne market for ethane, a petrochemical building block for plastic bags, antifreeze and other goods.

EPA estimates of natural gas leakage rates of slightly below 2% of total production, others have found that leakage rates might be as much as 4% or above.  In 2011, the U.S. emitted approximately 6.89 million metric tons of methane associated with Natural Gas systems, though leakage may be going down some, it is unclear if ethane leakage may also be down

Natural	gas	lifecycle	methane	leakage	rates	by	year	based	on	emissions	data	from	the	EPA	 inventory	reports	(2011,	2013)	and	natural	gas	production	data	via	the	EIA.	 Source: Hausfather and Muller, Berkely Earth, 2013
Natural gas lifecycle methane leakage rates by year based on emissions data from the EPA
inventory reports (2011, 2013) and natural gas production data via the EIA. Source: Hausfather and Muller, Berkely Earth, 2013

Plastic bags are almost entirely produced in the U.S., so it stands to reason that if plastic bag production has been curtailed by bans like that of California, that ethane that would normally be removed for production has to go somewhere. While some of it may go in ships overseas, some of it leaks into the atmosphere, adding to the greenhouse gas issue. They can’t leave it in the natural gas, so it is either burned off, vented, or leaked.

Ethane gas is removed from the natural gas compound since ethane has very high level of latent heat capacity and its presence in the natural gas compound makes it almost unusable as too much heat released by ethane can make natural gas too dangerous for domestic and commercial use. Source:

The ethane removal process is usually at a facility near wells, piped directly to a plastic making plant:

Polyethylene is derived from either modifying natural gas (a methane, ethane, propane mix) or from the catalytic cracking of crude oil into gasoline. In a highly purified form, it is piped directly from the refinery to a separate polymerisation plant. Source:

Ethane has a Global Warming Potential (GWP) of 5.5 times that of Carbon dioxide according to the IPCC AR4 report in 2007:


So with banning plastic bags to “save the environment”, we are likely allowing more ethane into the air, which increases warming if the IPCC figures are to be believed.

Environmentalists usually don’t think that far ahead, and probably never thought of this unintended consequence. As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Here is the press release for the new study on ethane concentrations:

Global ethane concentrations rising again, says CU-Boulder-led study

Steady decline of ethane emissions following peak in 1970s ended between 2005-2010


Global emissions of ethane, an air pollutant and greenhouse gas, are on the uptick again, according to a new study led by the University of Colorado Boulder.

The team found that a steady decline of global ethane emissions following a peak in about 1970 ended between 2005 and 2010 in most of the Northern Hemisphere and has since reversed, said CU-Boulder Associate Research Professor Detlev Helmig, lead study author. Between 2009 and 2014, ethane emissions in the Northern Hemisphere increased by about 400,000 tons annually, the bulk of it from North American oil and gas activity, he said.

The decline of ethane and other non-methane hydrocarbons (NMHC) starting around 1970 is believed to be primarily due to better emission controls, said Helmig. The controls resulted in reduced emissions from oil and gas production, storage and distribution, as well as combustion exhaust from cars and trucks.

“About 60 percent of the drop we saw in ethane levels over the past 40 years has already been made up in the past five years,” said Helmig. “If this rate continues, we are on track to return to the maximum ethane levels we saw in the 1970s in only about three more years. We rarely see changes in atmospheric gases that quickly or dramatically.”

Ethane, propane and a host of other NMHCs are released naturally by the seepage of fossil carbon deposits, volcanic activity and wildfires, said Helmig. But human activities, which also include biomass burning and industrial use, constitute the most dominant source of the NMHCs worldwide.

“These human sources make up roughly three-quarters of the atmospheric ethane that is being emitted,” said Helmig.

The air samples for the study were collected from more than 40 sites around the world, from Colorado and Greenland to Germany, Switzerland, New Zealand and the Earth’s polar regions. More than 30,000 soda bottle-sized air containers were sampled at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Earth Systems Research Laboratory (ESRL) in Boulder over the past decade.

The study also showed that among the air sampling locations around the world, the largest increases in ethane and shorter-lived propane were seen over the central and eastern United States, areas of heavy oil and gas activity, said Helmig.

“We concluded that added emissions from U.S. oil and gas drilling have been the primary source for the atmospheric ethane trend reversal,” he said.

The study, published in Nature Geoscience, also indicated that emissions of total NMHC in the Northern Hemisphere are now increasing by roughly 1.2 million tons annually.

The findings from the flask network, which INSTAAR and NOAA have been operating for more than 10 years, were supported by additional measurements showing very similar ethane behavior from a number of continuous global monitoring sites, he said.

A component of natural gas, ethane plays an important role in Earth’s atmosphere. As it breaks down near Earth’s surface it can create ground-based ozone pollution, a health and environmental risk.

Chemical models by the team show that the increase in ethane and other associated hydrocarbons will likely cause additional ground-based ozone production, particularly in the summer months, he said.

“Ethane is the second most significant hydrocarbon emitted from oil and gas after methane,” said Helmig. “Other studies show on average there is about 10 times as much methane being emitted by the oil and gas industry as ethane.”

There is high interest by scientists in methane since it is a strong greenhouse gas, said Helmig. The new findings on ethane increases indicate there should be more research on associated methane emissions.


Other CU-Boulder co-authors on the study included INSTAAR graduate student Samuel Rossabi and researcher Jacques Hueber. The paper also included scientists from NOAA, the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, The University of York in York, England and institutes in Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and New Zealand.

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June 15, 2016 9:46 am


Bryan A
Reply to  captainfish
June 15, 2016 10:22 am

Plastic Bag Ban is truly one of the SILLIEST feel good plans the great state of CAca thought up.
After all, where does your garbage go before you throw it out?comment image

Reply to  Bryan A
June 15, 2016 3:17 pm

Bag ban isn’t in effect in all CA, in fact you can get plastic bags at grocery stores all around Orange County. In fact, Surf City (aka Huntington Beach) voted away the bag ban which was imposed for about 2 years after citizens got angry and stood up to restore bags.

george e. smith
Reply to  Bryan A
June 15, 2016 5:06 pm

“””””….. An interesting thing is that ethane (C2H6) is used for the production of plastic bags, in fact it is the only ingredient. …..”””””
If ethane is the only ingredient in plastic bags; how do they make it stay solid instead of gaseous ??

Janice The American Elder
Reply to  Bryan A
June 16, 2016 4:48 am

George, in answer to your question, the gas is converted to a solid using a combination of heat and pressure. In a heat and pressure cracker, the ethane turns into ethylene. The ethylene is then reacted to form beads or pellets of polyethylene polymers. These are then heated until molten, and formed into various objects.

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Whistler, BC
Reply to  Bryan A
June 16, 2016 10:54 am

Ethane to any solid is through polymerisation. Natural gas can also be turned into diesel and gasoline as is done in South Africa. There is no need to remove the ethane or other gases from the Methane because it is all reduced to atoms first anyway.
SASOL makes a lot of polyethylene out of coal by the same process. Also candle wax and dozens of other products.
The real reason they remove the ethane from natural gas for domestic use is that the level would have to be controlled as the burner head has to be adapted to the gas. A propane (LPG) burner in a BBQ is not the same as a natural gas burner. If it had ethane in it, it would have to be different again. It has to do with the air-fuel mixing ratio.

Reply to  Bryan A
June 17, 2016 1:10 pm

The California plastic bag ban was delayed until the November 8, 2016 election, when a referendum will either confirm or overturn the law. The petition on the referendum was certified in February of 2015, and the law, passed in 2014, has been delayed ever since. If ethane in the atmosphere is increasing, it’s not because of the California ban.

June 15, 2016 9:48 am

Now aren’t you just ecstatic that (1) the majority of the greenhouse effect is caused by water vapor, plus (2) less than half of that added by atmospheric CO2, where (3) both are regulated by sea surface temperature, which (4) follows solar radiation after (5) being regulated by cloud cover that amplifies solar variations but simultaneously (6) mitigates warming from any cause? We could fix our erratic GCMs and use ethane to exterminate those pesky rats with no more concern at all over climate.

Reply to  Jeff Glassman
June 15, 2016 9:49 am

P.S. We ought to ban those plastic bags because they dump everything in your car on the way home from the market.

Reply to  Jeff Glassman
June 15, 2016 11:25 am

I was waiting for the drawstring to make it to them. It would have happened except for the luddites.

Don K
Reply to  Jeff Glassman
June 15, 2016 1:05 pm

“We ought to ban those plastic bags because they dump everything in your car on the way home from the market.”
Nonsense, mostly they wait until you are almost to the door then rip and dump your shopping on the walkway and into the plantings. And they are NOT remotely biodegradable. Plastic bags have some utility for produce and for wrapping dripping meat. But mostly, sensible shoppers use reusable fabric shopping bags. A few folks prefer paper bags (which I suspect aren’t all that great for the environment either, but at least any scraps that get loose vanish in a year or so).
Anyway, I think this is more an education issue than a let’s pass another silly law issue.

Reply to  Jeff Glassman
June 15, 2016 1:13 pm

In a dump, nothing bio-degrades.
In the open air, the plastic bags disintegrate in couple of years. UV is murder on them. In dry conditions, the plastic bag will have gone to bag heaven long before a paper bag.
As to re-usable cloth bags. Only if you like food poisoning.

Reply to  Jeff Glassman
June 15, 2016 1:30 pm

“In a dump, nothing bio-degrades.”
In our local landfill, the rubbish is layered with topsoil. I can assure most stuff biodegrades very nicely.

Reply to  Jeff Glassman
June 15, 2016 2:05 pm

Depends a lot on conditions.
I’ve seen pictures of 40 year old newspapers recovered from land fills that were still readable.

Walter Sobchak
Reply to  Jeff Glassman
June 15, 2016 2:17 pm

Tie them up before you put them in the trunk.

Mark luhman
Reply to  Jeff Glassman
June 15, 2016 9:47 pm

catweazle666, When you bury something you deny it oxygen without oxygen things degrade very slowly. I saw a show were a scientist doing real work drilled into land fills most of what he recovered was well preservet the hot dogs were prestine, so was most of the meat, same for paper, the phone books were just like they were when buried. The only landfill were that was not true, is where sea water had seaped in. Now I live in the desert and plastic does not survive sunlight and heat. I ran across a white PVC elbow laying in the desert exposed to the sun and half of it was gone. Plastic bags have no chance neither do water bottles. Most plastics do not hold up in 100+ temperatures for four months a year. My five-gallon buckets store in my un-airconditioned storage shed become a brittle as break like glass and they fall apart with a touch. Anything in the sun is gone, the paint on the south side of the house gone, When repainted the painter power wash the siding and all that was left was a thin powder on the aluminum and it was mostly aluminum.

Reply to  Jeff Glassman
June 16, 2016 6:23 am

We Arizonians are lucky because the plastic bags stick to the cactuses instead of blowing around. They’re lovely around sunset.

Reply to  Jeff Glassman
June 16, 2016 6:53 am

Just last week I purchased 60 items at the supermarket, packed into 31 plastic bags for the trip home. That didn’t include the bundle of a half dozen unopened plastic bags still stuck to one actually holding groceries.
Apparently Don K, that old smooth driver, doesn’t brake for snakes and javelinas. Walter Sobchak ties up his plastic bags. He must be getting a stronger bag than Don K’s. We need to find out where everyone shops.
MarkW: Not dump the noun, dump the verb. As the commercial said about the tyrolean, not that kind of German shepherd.
WUWT: the world’s leading website on whether.

June 15, 2016 9:50 am

The EPA calculation of effect of a ghg on global climate contains a boneheaded mistake?
The EPA erroneously asserts GWP is a measure of “effects on the Earth’s warming” with “Two key ways in which these [ghg] gases differ from each other are their ability to absorb energy (their “radiative efficiency”), and how long they stay in the atmosphere (also known as their “lifetime”).”
The EPA calculation of the global warming potential (GWP) of a ghg erroneously overlooks the fact that any effect the ghg might have on temperature is also integrated over the “lifetime” of the gas in the atmosphere so the duration in the atmosphere essentially cancels out. Therefore GWP, as calculated by the EPA, is not a measure of the relative influence on average global temperature of a ghg on a molecule basis.
The influence on average global temperature of a ghg molecule depends on how many different wavelengths of terrestrial EMR the molecule can absorb. Water vapor molecules can absorb hundreds in the wavelength range of terrestrial radiation compared to only one for CO2 and most other non-condensing ghg.
A consequence of this is CO2 has no significant effect on climate. Average global temperature trajectory since before 1900 can be explained with no significant influence from CO2 as demonstrated at

Reply to  Dan Pangburn
June 15, 2016 10:08 am

EPA GWPs are based on a 100 year timescale and the page you linked actually states that multiple times.

Reply to  BH
June 15, 2016 5:07 pm

BH – And that is wrong. The effect of duration essentially cancels out.

Reply to  Dan Pangburn
June 15, 2016 10:20 am

An “inconvenient proof” to be sure. I did not take the time to waddle through the model, I will do that later.

george e. smith
Reply to  Dan Pangburn
June 15, 2016 10:26 am

Well Actually the 15 micron CO2 band also consists of hundreds of individual lines just as does the H2O absorption bands. CO2 also has some absorption bands that are in the IR portion of the solar spectrum, so those bands too are many fine lines, but the absorption of solar energy by those CO2 lines is a cooling effect, just as H2O and clouds are a cooling effect due to solar energy absorption.
So nyet on CO2 is one wavelength.

Reply to  george e. smith
June 15, 2016 5:15 pm

OK, a distinction without a difference. Most of us are aware of the ‘spreading’ due to pressure, etc. at sea level conditions and the hash in the 14 to 16 micron range measurements. But the CO2 molecule has only one vibration mode relevant to terrestrial radiation. The sharp spike in TOA measurements is at 15 microns.

ferd berple
Reply to  Dan Pangburn
June 15, 2016 11:23 am

Approximate effect on the planet of the net of ocean surface temperature (SST)
The average ocean surface temperature oscillation is only about ±1/6 K so it does not significantly add or remove planet energy.
the site you linked to says the above. this is misleading. while the “planet” energy doesn’t change, the distribution of heat between the deep ocean and surface most certainly can change.
If the oceans of the earth were well mixed, the average temperature of the earth would drop 10C. All that is required for surface temperatures to increase is a decrease in the missing rate.

Reply to  ferd berple
June 15, 2016 6:13 pm

It’s not clear how deep you are thinking. The 1909-1941 average global temperature trend is consistent with +/- 1/6 K. I am aware of the ‘deep ocean’ theory but have not seen much that indicates there is anything to it. Density change with temperature argues against it, with salinity for it. My current thinking is any ‘deep ocean’ effect is not significant.

June 15, 2016 9:51 am

Doesn’t matter. The ban was never about facts, it’s about feelings.

June 15, 2016 9:51 am

Plastic bag bans are stupid. They are only a tiny fraction of the wrapping plastic in a typical load of groceries (my guess is less than 1%).
In my area, most groceries started charging 5c per bag a few years ago (grossly exaggerated price of course, the actual cost is at least 10 times less). They gradually stopped doing that, probably because they realized it wasn’t worth the effort and it was starting to piss off some customers (like me)

June 15, 2016 9:52 am

Hey now environmentalists need the tree pulp to provide “renewable” pellets for heating in Europe it’s “sustainable”! Once you take that carbon out of the ground it is gone forever and polluting our precious air and turning our water in great vats of acid! We need to stop pumping and shipping oil out of the ground NOW. Or at least that’s what some spoiled brat millennial told me.

Reply to  fossilsage
June 15, 2016 10:36 am

The millennial video

Eugene WR Gallun
Reply to  mikerestin
June 15, 2016 2:02 pm

mikerestin — Can’t watch that often enough! — Eugene WR Gallun.

June 15, 2016 10:00 am

The law of unintended consequences is the most significant law in the world. Yet, it gets ignored all of the time in environmental discussions. You see it in the mass rush to corn-based ethanol and in the UK fuel poverty statistics.

NW sage
Reply to  lorcanbonda
June 15, 2016 4:49 pm

Right on! It seems no one has the common sense to ask for, and review, any competent engineering studies on the possible physical, environmental, and economic effects of any proposed action. Perhaps that is because their minds are already made up and they wouldn’t accept the possible answers anyway?

Reply to  NW sage
June 15, 2016 6:05 pm

The purpose is not to achieve a tangible result: It is simply virtue signalling.

June 15, 2016 10:00 am

When the plastic bag appeared, I guessed that it was because, overall, it was much cheaper to use for bagging, compared to paper bags.
The classic “grocery bag” is a “1/6 bbl” size (one-sixth of a barrel) bag. Right now, the cost is about ten cents per bag, and they come in a large pack in units of 500.
The classic plastic “t-shirt” bag is called “t-shirt” because it resembles a t-shirt. Yes, they come in 1/6 bbl size – although I dare you to fill the plastic bag the same way you would fill the paper.
They typically come in packs of 1,000, and this pack is much smaller and lighter. Three packs might rival the size and weight of one 500-pack of 1/6 bbl paper grocery bags.
The cost now is about two cents a bag – about one-fifth the cost.
They hold, in my opinion, about one-third as much groceries, so you need three plastic bags to carry what one paper bag would carry.
At one-fifth the cost, and being on-third the size per unit, it ends up being cheaper and easier to depend on the plastic bags.
In my thinking, the plastic bags can mess things up more than the paper. The plastic is a real hassle if one gets wrapped up in your lawn mower, animals can get tangled in them, they become airborne and kite around very well, where they are free to eventually get drawn up against air intakes for cooling systems, etc.

Reply to  TheLastDemocrat
June 15, 2016 10:17 am

I re-use the plastic bag for disposal of open pet food containers. If I account for the second use of the bag it changes the cost benefit analysis. Also, I don’t fling them into the air as Californians apparently love to do for whatever reason. How about keeping the bags or end the ban at the CA border this time. A warning label emblazoned on each bag on proper use, re-use, and disposal would be easier. There is also enough room on the side of the bags for advertisement of more idiot ballot initiatives.

NW sage
Reply to  Resourceguy
June 15, 2016 4:56 pm

I suggest the following warning on all bags made in the USA: “WARNING” [in large type] “Known to the State of California to cause stupidity and irrational behavior”

Reply to  TheLastDemocrat
June 15, 2016 12:05 pm

Stop with the math, it’s too hard!

Reply to  PiperPaul
June 15, 2016 2:05 pm

“Math is hard.”

Reply to  PiperPaul
June 15, 2016 4:57 pm

I thought the math was quite straightforward. Well within the the 6th grade math book I have from early 1900s.

Mark luhman
Reply to  TheLastDemocrat
June 15, 2016 9:52 pm

Stick a paper bag in the Kitchen trash container and see how superior they are too plastic when you pick the bag out of said container and all you end up wit is the sides of the paper bag, the kitchen waste remains in the can and so does the bottom of the bag.

June 15, 2016 10:03 am

Pssst, I can get you a carload of them if you need some. They are very light and degrade quickly. We already have enough clear cutting of trees for renewable energy pellet plants anyway. As for reusable bags, they are about as dirty and germy as the underside of a women’s purse. Well not that bad.

Reply to  Resourceguy
June 15, 2016 12:38 pm

I have a bunch of reusable bags and “freezer” bags for various reasons including the fact that some stores don’t even provide bags. But guess what these bags are made from? My Mountain Equipment Co-Op bag is 100% Polypropylene. Not machine washable. (MEC doesn’t give out bags, so no choice.) My other reusable bags, – Home Hardware, couple of grocery stores are also PLASTIC. I mostly use them for things other than groceries. The grocery bags become home trash bags so I don’t buy many trash bags.
I wonder how many of these people know they are banning plastic bags to force people to use a different kind of plastic bag? I wonder how many people hand wash these bags after using them to prevent cross contamination? I wonder how many people have accidentally contaminated their produce by putting them in the same reusable bag as cleaning, drugs insecticides and other products? With the “disposable” plastic bags, grocery handlers can separate the meat, produce, cleaning and other products. I wonder how many people with reusable plastic bags have them labelled for use? Probably near none. The law of unintended consequences at work. Some small child will have to die before they analyze the risk.
Caveat Emptor

Reply to  Wayne Delbeke
June 15, 2016 5:04 pm

I haven’t worked through the math, but I suspect the energy and material cost of washing a reusable bag is greater than the cost of making several “disposable” plastic bags.
Just heating the cleaning water for the reusable bag probably takes more energy than is available from burning the disposable bags.
I use some of those (my wife bought them). Little chance of contamination from dishwasher detergent boxes – nearly all my produce goes into the even thinner produce bags.

Bryan A
June 15, 2016 10:27 am

We certainly add enough Ethanol to our gas. Over time, can Ethanol break down into Ethane?

Reply to  Bryan A
June 15, 2016 11:11 am


Reply to  ristvan
June 15, 2016 12:04 pm

But it does ruin small and large engines as it degrades the gasoline, causing expensive fixes.

June 15, 2016 10:33 am

A ban on flinging plastic bags in the air without a permit would have been more appropriate.

June 15, 2016 11:05 am

Regarding: “Ethane gas is removed from the natural gas compound since ethane has very high level of latent heat capacity and its presence in the natural gas compound makes it almost unusable as too much heat released by ethane can make natural gas too dangerous for domestic and commercial use”:
Ethane does not burn significantly hotter than methane. Methane, ethane, propane and butane have very similar flame temperatures. The issue is that these gases have different densities, different amounts of heat of combustion per unit volume, and different requirements of fuel/air ratio by volume. Appliances for natural gas or any other specific fuel gas require a fuel gas with a specific ideal combustion ratio of air to fuel by volume.

Reply to  Donald L. Klipstein
June 15, 2016 1:09 pm

Yes, but systems for using ethane as a power plant feedstock, even at 100% ethane, already are available and in use.
Instead of exporting ethane, depending on price, it can provide more cheap electricity right here in the US.

Derek Kilmer
Reply to  Donald L. Klipstein
June 16, 2016 6:16 am

The quoted article used the term “latent heat” in error. Since natural gas and ethane are all in gas phase, there is no phase change (like liquid to gas) and the latent heat is not applicable. As Mr. Klipstein explains, it is ethane’s different heat of combustion, density, and concentration that would cause the characteristics of natural gas to vary (if ethane was included or removed).

Juan Slayton
June 15, 2016 11:09 am

Although our deranged legislature has indeed passed a statute to ban single use plastic bags, the industry seems to have had no problem getting enough citizens to sign up to put it on the ballot in this November election.
Read all about it at:

Reply to  Juan Slayton
June 15, 2016 12:08 pm

When rendered essentially powerless to do anything about real problems, people will sign on for things that seem virtuous on the surface. How convenient is that?

Jim van Gaasbeek
Reply to  Juan Slayton
June 15, 2016 12:11 pm

Correct – I’ve just been to the grocery store here in the OC, and brought my purchase home in good old-fashioned plastic bags. No ban yet, and let’s hope that the citizens of California vote correctly in November.

Reply to  Jim van Gaasbeek
June 15, 2016 3:20 pm

Jim, the folks in HB voted away the ban about 2 years ago and made sure the ordinance wouldn’t be superceded by the state law. Hoping the rest of the state votes correctly this fall.

June 15, 2016 11:16 am

As usual, leftists feel instead of do.

Eugene WR Gallun
Reply to  MarkW
June 15, 2016 2:08 pm

More accurate to say — lefists feel instead of think.
Eugene WR Gallun

June 15, 2016 11:21 am

There is as much disinformation about plastic as the climate.
Plastic packaging is better for the environment than paper. The talk of toxic chemicals in plastic is BS. Plastic decomposes. There is no island of plastic in the pacific. Most plastic contains no chlorine so burns cleaner than wood. Plastic used for packaging is made of simple Hydrogen and Carbon chains JUST LIKE CELLULOSE, i.e. its no different from wood or paper. Banning plastic bags when they represent .00001% of the total hydrocarbons used in the grocery process is just stupid. There is no other word for it. On top of that, any possible savings will be overwhelmed by people having to buy thicker hefty bags to replace whatever they were reusing the bags for, or when stores bring back paper bags which use 100x the material and transport fuel. Apparently environmentalists were the only ones who didn’t reuse or recycle the plastic bags.
We have to stop environmentalists from destroying the environment.

Reply to  JohnnyCrash
June 15, 2016 12:10 pm

I think they’d be content with just destroying the economy and independent, non-approved thought.

June 15, 2016 11:23 am

Nothing really to worry about. If the greenies get their way, after you’ve paid for all the dirty energy you use and properly subsidized all the free, renewable energy souces, you’ll be able to carry home all the groceries you can afford in your two cupped hands. A brave new world awaits.

J B Williamson
June 15, 2016 11:31 am

There is another side to this. Over here in the UK, the cost of a flimsy plastic bag is 5p (7cents). Now you see people walking out of Waitress/Tesco etc with hands full of goodies and no bags. How is the security guard going to know if you have paid for this stuff. Before the charge was introduced, the plastic bag was a kind of ‘receipt’ for the goods purchased.
It would be interesting to know if the rate of shop lifting has gone up because of the new charges.

Smart Rock
June 15, 2016 11:46 am

Calling ethane a waste product is a good example of assuming that the status quo can never change. Ethane can be converted to ethanol which is useful as a fuel. Much of the gasoline I buy these days has some ethanol in it, mostly made from corn. Just because there’s no current industrial-scale process to make ethanol from ethane, that is no reason to assume that there won’t be one if the petrochemical industry decided to develop one. For example, see this

Reply to  Smart Rock
June 15, 2016 1:17 pm

Ethanol is not useful as a fuel.
It is USED as a fuel, but mostly because the government mandates it.

NW sage
Reply to  MarkW
June 15, 2016 5:04 pm

True – Henry Ford designed the first Model Ts to run on ethanol. [Potentially made by farmers from residue of their farming operations.] For many and various reasons, it didn’t work out and the designs were changed to gasoline.

June 15, 2016 11:51 am

Given the high correlation between CA bans and regulatory over reach with U.S. policy shifts imposed on all states, I’ll start storing up plastic bags now. I have a two car garage with a high ceiling. That should hold a few million bags in storage for friends and family. It could also become a coop effort.

Reply to  Resourceguy
June 15, 2016 12:33 pm

And then I can trade some of your hoard of plastic bags for some of my hoard of incandescent lightbulbs.

June 15, 2016 12:15 pm

” Environmentalists usually don’t think that far ahead, and probably never thought of this unintended consequence. As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
Hey hey that’s not fair. In my work I do nothing but this type of thing and it’s a very very large topic of research in environmental sciences. BUT, in order to say something about the future you’d need to model it (actually this kind of work would fall under consequential LCA modelling). And the WUWT crowd is quite famous for distrusting anything related to computer modelling.
All I’m saying is, can’t have your cake and eat it too.
That being said, if ethene is worth anything they’ll sell it. Otherwise just turn it to syngas, or burn it for energy. Flaring is becoming less and less common for both environmental reasons and because it’s basically just burning money.

Reply to  benben
June 15, 2016 1:18 pm

We only distrust models that have not been validated against real world data.

Reply to  benben
June 15, 2016 1:35 pm

Or, if the real world data points in the same direction as the models, claim that the data is wrongfully adjusted, and ignore the fact that the WUWT-approved satellite data is most adjusted of all data sets 😉

Reply to  benben
June 15, 2016 2:08 pm

Pointing in the same general direction as models is not the same thing as validating them.
Especially when the models predict 2 to 3 times as much warming as the real world provides.
That the data has been wrongfully adjusted has been proven.
booboo, do you ever get tired of pushing these lies.
The adjustments made to the satellite data have been presented for all to see. If you have a problem with them, show where the adjustments are wrong.

Reply to  benben
June 16, 2016 7:05 pm

hmm last time I checked the current excess energy in our climate system falls within the 95% confidence interval of the range predicted by current models. Obviously you’ll not care, because you don’t want to believe the models. But if you are anywhere remotely interested in having a normal conversation with someone from the other side, you’d need to start with the actual nuanced reality of how the models are doing, not some hyperbolic 2x-3x figure.
But, nuanced discussion is not what you get here, unfortunately!

June 15, 2016 12:22 pm

And of course burying plastic bags sequesters the carbon in them so… what’s the rational rubric again?

June 15, 2016 12:49 pm

..Off Topic but high on the B.S. scale !!
CTV News Canada
“Global warming is causing all kinds of sharks to migrate to Canada ”

Bryan A
Reply to  Marcus
June 15, 2016 2:44 pm

It could be worse…It could be the Sahara

Bryan A
Reply to  Marcus
June 15, 2016 2:54 pm

Of course though…Being in Canada…you do need to worry about these

H. D. Hoese
Reply to  Marcus
June 15, 2016 2:59 pm

Blue sharks and molas are not tropical.

June 15, 2016 12:50 pm

There are hundreds of uses for plastic grocery bags. On this one list, I can say I have used many of them at one time or another (but NOT 47!.)
Lots more on the Internet.

Carolyn Snookes
June 15, 2016 1:00 pm

Don’t care about the science on this one or the hypocrisy of environmental bullies. All I know is that I walk along the beach each morning and used to have to pick up plastic bags left, right and center. Since they were banned in Tasmania I hardly ever see the wretched things any more. I don’t care if they only kill one creature, it’s too many when we are perfectly capable of managing without the bags. The world has not collapsed since they were banned here and, in any case, re-usable bags (whatever they are made of) are stronger and much more comfortable to carry than plastic ones.
My family come from pioneering stock and my grandparents also lived through the depression and then lost what little they had in the 1939 Black Friday fires. It has always been a strong ethos in my family that you don’t waste things and re-use whatever you can. If a bunch of mad greenies were responsible for foisting billions of essentially single-use plastic bags on the world, they ought to be shot and my environmental credentials are a thousand times better than theirs.

Reply to  Carolyn Snookes
June 15, 2016 2:11 pm

I love it when activists set the standard as “the world didn’t end”.
It doesn’t matter how much other people are inconvenienced, so long as the world didn’t end, it’s justified.
There isn’t any evidence that the bags killed even one creature.
However absence of those bags has resulted in quite a few humans getting sick do to cross contamination from improperly cleaned re-usable bags.

Bryan A
Reply to  MarkW
June 15, 2016 2:40 pm

I know what you mean…CO2 Topped 400PPM and the world didn’t end either

Bryan A
Reply to  Carolyn Snookes
June 15, 2016 2:39 pm

And which of these “Single Use” containers is used to constrain your refuse in the house until it goes in the main can and it removed weekly?

Reply to  Carolyn Snookes
June 16, 2016 6:39 am

My instant thought was : So Tasmanians are slobs ? There are a lot of distinctively slobby cultures around the world .
Some times a bag will get accidentally caught in the wind here in Colorado , but we collectively keep the place pretty attractive . And , as has been noted , plastics degrade faster than horse pies here at 2500m .
And around our house there is no such thing as a “single-use” bag . I consider the incredible utility of an astoundingly small amount of material among the modern miracles . They are so obviously more “ecological” than those old brown paper bags which were generally single-use .

June 15, 2016 1:02 pm

Similar silliness here in Ontario, Canada. While we do not (yet) have an outright ban on plastic bags, many stores that used to supply their own branded shopping bags have moved to charging (5 or 10 cents) for each one. People either lug some of those (possibly less than clean) fabric bags, or carry a pocket full of some other store’s bags. Or they grumble and refuse to pay the “fine” and juggle their purchases on the way to their car.
Me, I’ve always reused the old freebie shopping bags as kitchen catchers, I use a kitchen cupboard door mounted bracket that holds a standard shopping bag. I guess such thinking is frowned upon nowadays.

Bruce of Newcastle
June 15, 2016 1:44 pm

Plastic HDPE supermarket bags are greener than cloth bags:
Why you need to use your ‘environmentally friendly’ cotton carrier bag 131 times to be green
And if you wash your cloth bag you blow the environmental footprint sky high because of the water use, detergent and etc. But if you don’t wash your cloth bags you could die…
Eww, reusable grocery bags’ germs can make you sick

The solution? Treat them like your dirtiest laundry: Give ’em hot water and disinfectant once a week.

So the plastic bag ban has got to be the stupidest bit of green religiosity out there.

Reply to  Bruce of Newcastle
June 15, 2016 2:12 pm

As Snookes above demonstrates, the ban is about feeling good about yourself.

Reply to  Bruce of Newcastle
June 15, 2016 6:40 pm

Much of the stuff you’re stuffing into your ‘dirty ol’ cotton carrier bag’ was yanked out of the dirt, you know the stuff made up of decomposed vegitable matter and the waste products of bovine digestion. Wash the bag? Sure if you feel the necessity. But jeeze if I’m gonna eat it I’m gonna wash it first or at least rinse it off and put it in boiling water or on hot iron. There are exceptions to this rule but we won’t discuss them here. I wonder if Lister and Pasteur would be amused by our ‘germophobia’. Many of the best things in life, wine, beer, whiskey, kraut, pickles and sourdough bread had to spoil to get good. Microbes, man’s earliest domesticated creatures.

June 15, 2016 3:20 pm

The new findings on ethane increases indicate there should be more research on associated methane emissions.

??? That doesn’t follow. Maybe they left something out.
In any event, methane is irrelevant as a greenhouse gas because its absorption spectrum overlaps that of water. In other words, if the methane wasn’t there, those wavelengths would be absorbed anyway. WUWT
Interestingly, I haven’t found a nice graph comparing the absorption spectra of water, methane, carbon dioxide, and ethane.

James at 48
June 15, 2016 4:48 pm

There is no state level ban yet. Court action stopped it from going into effect. There is to be a referendum in November to decide this matter. Until then, grab what you can in local jurisdictions that don’t have a ban. I looked at the list recently and there are still surprisingly few that have the ban. Even in LA County there are a number of cities that don’t have a ban. Bay Area’s a bit worse. I still get bags in the hinterlands though. Rural is no problem except the odd college town or hippie haven.

June 15, 2016 5:34 pm

I go to visit the grandkids in CA.
Wife sends me to store for groceries.
I go through check-out and clerk asks ME where my bags are.
They don’t have plastic OR paper bags. NO bags. YOU bring your own bags.
I was so close to telling her where she and her store could stick my groceries, but I had already paid for them.
Can’t even remember how I got them home now, it was so traumatic.
Big deal at Costco in CA selling grocery bags now, I hear.
Felt like buying/stealing a bunch from Bashas in AZ and selling them outside Safeway in CA.

Rhoda R
June 15, 2016 7:02 pm

I don’t see plastic grocery bags as single use bags because I use them for cat litter and other similar uses. Single use plastic bags would be the ones that I’d have to buy for the same purposes if the plastic grocery bags were outlawed.

Michael Carter
June 15, 2016 9:55 pm

“These human sources make up roughly three-quarters of the atmospheric ethane that is being emitted,” said Helmig.”
Statements like these raise my hackles. How can we know this?
Continental shelves consist of around 15% (area) of Earth’s landmass. Much of the continental geology is devoid of hydrocarbons. It is too old and has long had the right rock types eroded away – or is igneous /metamorphic. Conversely, continental shelves are a prolific source of hydrocarbons. They are usually younger and commonly contain the correct materials, depth of burial, and temperatures to produce and store hydrocarbons. Drilling in deeper and deeper water is not occurring through chance
Hydrocarbon reservoirs commonly seep – especially gas. Most of the great continental oil fields were discovered through surface seepage. We simply don’t know how much sea-bed seepage is occurring. A very prolific gas seep was recently discovered of East Coast New Zealand. The scientists reported a degree of surprise at the volumes involved: durrrr ?? The NZ continental shelf is almost as big as the Australian landmass, extending almost to New Guinea. Simple common sense has to tell us there are an awful lot more seeps out there
How much reaches the atmosphere? I don’t know. Over to you chemists 🙂

Reply to  Michael Carter
June 23, 2016 2:06 pm

Not that much, it gets eaten by microbes or oxidized first. That said, green plants, especially terrestrial ones, emit ethylene directly as a stress response as well as short chains, mostly dimers and trimers (terpene) also as stress responses. Go to a pine forest in the summer or if you are in the US southeast, any time from April through November when it is warm and sunny enough. Take a deep breath of the VOCs and the photochemical ozone.

June 16, 2016 2:19 am

The plastic bag ban is just another one of those actions designed to make one feel good about themselves. It doesn’t have to make sense, it can produce negative results, but at least something is being done so uninformed people can feel good.

June 16, 2016 6:52 am

Plastic bag bans are silly, but blaming the banning of a single product in one state for increased ethane levels in the atmosphere is silly as well. There’s no way the impact of such a small decrease in polyethylene usage could be responsible for a measurable affect. On the other hand, natural gas production is at record highs and ethane is part of that production, so perhaps there is a correlation there (not that there’s any real problem with the ethane concentration in the atmosphere anyway).

June 16, 2016 8:09 am

I use re-usable grocery bags….I’ve made myself with a plastic lining that I wipe out. I also found some cute meat(beef and pork are separate)/chicken/produce/frozen/cleaning/(non-foods) fabric and made 1 in each. The reason I did this was very simple–I hate the fact that plastic bags are so cheap that if you put more than 2 canned goods inside one it will break. That is the only reason. Because the fabric on the outside (which is a cotton/polyester blend in a straight plain weave) is patterned with what goes inside of it, I already have them labeled. I also made my bags so they fit inside and stand up in the plastic bag stands so that the cashiers and baggers can just open the bag on the stand and not have to finagle a way to make them stay open. I also made the handles longer so that I can put the bag over my shoulder–which is handy for hauling the groceries into the house.
The plastic lining is both insulated on the meat/chicken/frozen bags and 100% antibacterial/anti fungal and cleans and disinfects easily. The seams are all sealed so they are leak-proof as well (which I tested). The outside fabric wipes easily to clean or I can toss them into the washer if they get dirty. They don’t pick up lint/dirt/nastiness like other fabric bags I have had in the past either.
I spent a lot of time on my grocery bags for 1 reason only—because I hate plastic shopping bags. They have none of the features I want in a grocery bag–you can’t fill them, you can’t put anything heavy in them and stuff falls out of them all the time. And while I did them in bulk at the sewing machine, each one of my bags cost me about $5 in materials and about $25 in time to make. But they are mine and completely worth it to me.
And they are cute with their patterns. However, if I had not bothered to make my own that work the way I want them to, I’d still be using plastic or paper (which I re-use for weaving or recycle).
So you can use fabric bags and have them be clean and sanitized without cross contamination–but you have to make them that way and they aren’t cheap. 🙂 Subjecting people to use those crappy germ ridden fabric grocery bags that are on the market or those 100% poly non-woven bags that fall apart after use 3 is either ridiculous OR an amazing marketing scheme.

June 16, 2016 8:47 am

Jenn Runion:
“[…] is either ridiculous OR an amazing marketing scheme.”
Either, OR? I say both.The bureaucracies supply the ridiculous part and enterprising companies fight to get their share of the fiat market.
Nice diatribe on plastic bags, by the way. I agree 100% except I use them for collecting the ‘buried treasure’ I find when scooping the cats’ litter boxes. (H/T dbstealy for the buried treasure euphemism).

Reply to  H.R.
June 16, 2016 8:57 am

Oops! Sorry dbstealey. I know better. Just in a hurry. IIRC, you used the phrase ‘digging for buried treasure’ back when you used Smokey for a handle.

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Whistler, BC
June 16, 2016 10:47 am

=Ethane gas is removed from the natural gas compound since ethane has very high level of latent heat capacity and its presence in the natural gas compound makes it almost unusable as too much heat released by ethane can make natural gas too dangerous for domestic and commercial use.”
Rubbish. Propane has a higher ‘latent heat capacity’ (can’t even get that concept right – they are taking about energy content, the twits).
Plastic bags are frequently recycled. Apart from saving a lot of trees they are far more sanitary. They can be put in the Blue Bins and in my old town, we’re turned into plastic bags again.
When plastics are too degraded to re-use as an input material they can be turned into methanol, the universal future destination of all organic materials in a sustainable society.

June 16, 2016 3:00 pm

I’ve never been to Tasmania but I’ve heard there are quite a few inhabitants with two heads and stupidity due to inbreeding. 🙂
The local Woolworths supermarket tried a plastic bag ban here in Toowoomba a few years ago. For about a week. My wife must have been one of many complain. She told the store manager if she wanted an Aldi experience she’d have gone there.
South Australia has a plastic bag ban too. Like Tasmania, another mendicant State of Australia living by the good graces of the productive States.
I’ve long though South Australia should simply be abolished by being absorbed into Victoria, WA and the Northern Territory and the latter welfare sinkhole ruled directly by Canberra.
Tasmania should be freed from the yoke of Canberra and allowed to go its own way as an independent country.

Dr. Strangelove
June 16, 2016 7:52 pm

“In 2011, the U.S. emitted approximately 6.89 million metric tons of methane associated with Natural Gas systems”
Puny US gas industry. 1.4 billion cows emit 370 million metric tons of methane every year. Activists are putting all sorts of regulations and cows are just farting in their faces.

June 17, 2016 11:14 pm
Plastic of plastic bag is manufactured from ethylene (C2H4). Ethylene is made by steam cracking from light hydrocarbon. So ethane (C2H6) is no way only source of plastic bag at least globally.
I think ban of plastic bags is not wise when you can use them as rubbish bag etc. However atmospheric ethane is not directly depending plastic bag ban, I think.

Reply to  ristoi
June 23, 2016 2:09 pm

Um, ethane *is* a light hydrocarbon. Ethane and ethylene are byproducts of oil refining. You’re right about it not directly depending on a polyethylene plastic bag ban. Terrestrial green plants directly emit ethylene.

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