Tag Archives: methane

New study finds fracking does not contaminate drinking water

The uncertainty of science: A new study, using data from more than 11,000 drinking water wells in northern Pennsylvania, has found no evidence that fracking causes contamination.

The new study of 11,309 drinking water wells in northeastern Pennsylvania concludes that background levels of methane in the water are unrelated to the location of hundreds of oil and gas wells that tap hydraulically fractured, or fracked, rock formations. The finding suggests that fracking operations are not significantly contributing to the leakage of methane from deep rock formations, where oil and gas are extracted, up to the shallower aquifers where well water is drawn.

The result also calls into question prominent studies in 2011 and 2013 that did find a correlation in a nearby part of Pennsylvania. There, wells closer to fracking sites had higher levels of methane. Those studies, however, were based on just 60 and 141 domestic well samples, respectively.

The article outlines in detail the many disagreements and uncertainties of both the old studies and this new one. It also however contains this one key quote about the earlier studies, buried in the text, that illustrates the politics influencing the reporting of the anti-fracking research:

The two papers seemed to show that fracking was leading to increased concentrations of methane in drinking water. Dissolved methane is not toxic, and drinking water often contains significant background levels of the gas from natural sources. [emphasis mine]

The earlier studies were blasted everywhere by the media. They were used to show the harm fracking does, and were the justification for the banning of fracking in New York. Yet, the methane they found was not necessarily caused by fracking, and isn’t even a health concern anyway.

I wonder if the press will give this new report as much coverage. It might not be right, but it sure does indicate that the science is unsettled, and that the risks from fracking are, as usual in these days of doom-saying environmentalism, overblown.

Methane does exist in the Martian atmosphere

The uncertainty of science: Curiosity has confirmed the presence, and fluctuation, of methane in the local Martian atmosphere.

SAM [Sample Analysis at Mars, one of Curiosity’s instruments] has been detecting basal levels of methane concentration of around 0,7 ppbv, and has confirmed an event of episodic increase of up to ten times this value during a period of sixty soles (Martian days), i.e., of about 7 ppvb. The new data are based on observations during almost one Martian year (almost two Earth years), included in the initial prediction for the duration of the mission (nominal mission), during which Curiosity has surveyed about 8 kms in the basin of the Gale crater.

Since methane has a short life expectancy, something must be doing something to generate it.

Methane leaks from natural gas wells less than predicted

Once again, Chicken Little was wrong! A new study has found that methane leaks from modern natural gas exploration is far lower than expected.

Essentially, the usual environmental doom-sayers had claimed that methane leaks would be 50% higher than predicted by industry experts. Instead, they are lower than expected, and likely pose no risk to the environment.

The seas of Titan

Thar’s black gold up thar! Data from Cassini has confirmed the presence of ocean waves on Titan’s seas, while also providing suggesting that they are made mostly of liquid methane, not ethane as had been predicted.

The maximum depth of Kraken Mare appears to be 160 meters, and Ligeia Mare could be as much as 200 meters deep, reported Marco Mastrogiuseppe of Sapienza University of Rome. The fact that the radar signals could bounce off the sea bottom suggests that the seas were more transparent than expected and thus must contain mostly methane, not ethane. Hayes says his best estimate is about 90% methane. Essam Marouf, a planetary scientist at San José State University in California, reported on the first results from a separate radar experiment that sent radar reflections to Earth instead of back to the spacecraft. Those tests provide independent evidence that the seas are dominated by methane, Marouf says, and it implies that the lakes are kept filled by precipitating methane.

As the article also notes, this methane is “55 times Earth’s oil reserves.”

Curiosity finds organic materials on Mars, including fluctuating levels of methane

Data from Curiosity has found both organic chemicals in the surface of Mars as well as quickly changing levels of methane in the nearby atmosphere.

NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has measured a tenfold spike in methane, an organic chemical, in the atmosphere around it and detected other organic molecules in a rock-powder sample collected by the robotic laboratory’s drill. “This temporary increase in methane — sharply up and then back down — tells us there must be some relatively localized source,” said Sushil Atreya of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and Curiosity rover science team. “There are many possible sources, biological or non-biological, such as interaction of water and rock.”

The organic material does not prove there is or was ever life on Mars. What it shows is that conditions on Mars could have once supported life. The methane detection, however, is a more significant finding, as it suggests that something very nearby to Curiosity is causing the spike. It could be life, or it could be chemical activity, but in either case, it means there is activity.

The one caveat is that the spike still did not amount to much, 7 parts per billion. Whatever is causing it is not really doing very much.

Natural methane plumes found on the sea floor

The uncertainty of science: Scientists have discovered hundreds of natural methane sea-floor seeps that had not been predicted by theory.

The bubble streams showed up on sonar scans of the sea floor taken between September 2011 and August 2013 during oceanographic expeditions ranging from Cape Hatteras in North Carolina to Georges Bank off Cape Cod. Altogether, researchers analysed data covering a 94,000-square-kilometre arc (an area about the size of Indiana or Hungary) that includes the edge of the continental shelf and the steep slope just seaward of it, says co-author Adam Skarke, a geologist at Mississippi State University in Starkville. Within a distance of about 950 kilometres, the team found about 570 bubble plumes — an astounding number considering that scientists had previously reported only a handful in the region, he notes.

The article’s first two paragraphs breathlessly attempt to link these plumes to human-caused global warming, noting that there is theory that a warming ocean could produce such methane seeps. Worse, the article adds, once this methane is released it will accentuate warming, as methane is a very powerful greenhouse gas.

The article’s last paragraph, however, finally tells us the real story. Hard data gathered by remote robot vehicles that have actually visited these kinds of plumes instead suggests that the plumes have been there for more than a thousand years and thus could have nothing to do with human-caused global warming. In fact, their natural existence is a significant problem for most climate theories, as they now have to account for this additional greenhouse gas, naturally produced.

Despite data from orbiting probes that say there is methane in Mars’ atmosphere, Curiosity has detected none.

Despite data from orbiting probes that say there is methane in Mars’ atmosphere, Curiosity has detected none.

The detection of methane by orbiting satellites in certain regions of Mars was intriguing as it suggested the possibility of Martian microbiological life. Curiosity is not in those regions, but apparently the scientists thought they’d detect evidence of it from a distance. That they did not reduces significantly the possibility of life on Mars.

Scientists now think it is possible for there to be floating methane ice on the lakes of Titan.

Scientists now think it is possible for there to be floating methane ice on the lakes of Titan.

Up to this point, Cassini scientists assumed that Titan lakes would not have floating ice, because solid methane is denser than liquid methane and would sink. But the new model considers the interaction between the lakes and the atmosphere, resulting in different mixtures of compositions, pockets of nitrogen gas, and changes in temperature. The result, scientists found, is that winter ice will float in Titan’s methane-and-ethane-rich lakes and seas if the temperature is below the freezing point of methane — minus 297 degrees Fahrenheit (90.4 kelvins). The scientists realized all the varieties of ice they considered would float if they were composed of at least 5 percent “air,” which is an average composition for young sea ice on Earth. (“Air” on Titan has significantly more nitrogen than Earth air and almost no oxygen.)

Not only have the models failed to predict temperature, they also have failed to predict the amount of methane in the atmosphere.

Another IPCC failure, revealed in the leaked report: Not only have the models failed to predict global temperature, they also have failed to predict the amount of methane in the atmosphere.

The graph at the link is just like the temperature graph I posted on Monday. It compares actual observations with the predictions of the computer models, which all called for a hefty rise in atmospheric methane. All the models got it wrong.

A Russian scientist has found large amounts of methane being released in the atmosphere in the Arctic

A Russian scientist has found large amounts of methane being released into the atmosphere in the Arctic, far more than previously predicted.

It is speculated that these releases are the result of the Earth’s warming climate during the past several hundred years. And because methane is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, its release will feed into that warming.

Ethane lakes in a red haze: Titan’s uncanny moonscape

Titan’s ethane lakes in a red haze.

So far, there are no recognisable signs of organic life. That’s not surprising: by terrestrial standards, Titan is a deep freeze with surface temperatures at a chilly -180°C. Yet Titan is very much alive in the sense that its atmosphere and surface are changing before our eyes. Clouds drift through the haze and rain falls from them to erode stream-like channels draining into shallow lakes. Vast dune fields that look as if they were lifted from the Sahara sprawl along Titan’s equator, yet the dark grains resemble ground asphalt rather than sand. It is a bizarrely different world that looks eerily like home. Or as planetary scientist Ralph Lorenz puts it: “our prototype weird-world exoplanet”.