Irrational Methane Obsession Page

New York’s war on natural gas or methane is not based on issues of cost, efficiency, and benefits, but only on an ideology built on the hatred of the natural gas industry. Thus, the policies incorporated into the Climate Leadership & Community Protection Act (Climate Act) are not based on facts or research but ideology. They are, in a word, irrational.  This page references facts and research that contradict the selective “science” used to vilify natural gas in the Climate Act. 

Viewed through a pragmatic lens, the New York obsession with eliminating natural gas is irrational. Increased use of natural gas has been responsible for most electric generation emission reductions observed in the state.  Natural gas provides efficient, resilient, and safe energy to homes and businesses.  Not so long ago the idea that natural gas could also be used a bridge fuel until the aspirational “green” generating resources and energy storage technologies could be tested at the scale needed, perform like a natural gas fired generating unit, and provide power at a similar cost, was generally accepted as a rational approach.  

That this vilification of methane is based on mis-understanding of chemistry and radiations physics is particularly troubling.   The relative impact of methane and carbon dioxide emissions on longwave radiation that causes the greenhouse gas effect is a function of the following:

  • Changes to radiation effects occur on a molecule-by-molecule basis in the atmosphere
    • The Climate Act tracks emissions by weight.  In the atmosphere CO2 is more than two orders of magnitude more abundant than CH4 on a molecular basis.
    • The Climate Act uses the global warming potential that estimates the mid-range, long-term warming potential of CH4 is 32 times that of CO2.  However, that equivalence is for equal weights of the two gases! 
    • Methane emissions on a molecular basis are increasing at a rate of 0.58% of CO2 increases
    • Using a molecular basis (parts per million-volume mole-fraction) to account for the lighter CH4 molecule reveals that the annual contribution to warming is a fraction of that claimed for CO2 and, therefore, methane emissions have insignificant effects.
  • There is another molecular consideration ignored in the Climate Act.  Each greenhouse gas affects outgoing radiation differently across the bell-shaped radiation spectrum  One of the reasons that CO2  is considered the most important is that its effect is coincides with the peak of the bell shape.  On the other hand, the effect of CH4 is down in the tail of the bell shape.  As a result, the effect of CH4 is on the order of only 20% of the effect of CO2.
  • Andy May’s excellent summarization of Wijngaarden and Happer’s important paper “Dependence of Earth’s Thermal Radiation on Five Most Abundant Greenhouse Gases” explains that the greenhouse effect of methane is not only related to the effect on longwave radiation itself but also the concentration in the atmosphere.  Because the atmospheric concentration of methane is so small doubling concentrations change the “outgoing forcing by less than one percent”.  In other words, doubling emissions or cutting emissions in half of methane will have no measurable effect on global warming itself. 
  • The residence time of the two gases is different.  Methane only has a lifetime of about 10-12 years in the atmosphere.  The “consensus” science claim is that 80% of the anthropogenic CO2 emissions are removed within 300 years.  (Note however that there are other estimates of much shorter residence times.) This means that CO2 is accumulating in the atmosphere.  CH4 is converted to CO2 and is then counted in the monthly CO2 measurements as part of the CO2 flux.  Because methane does not accumulate the same way as CO2 it should be handled differently.  However the Climate Act doubles down on using the same approach.  Climate Act authors claimed it was necessary to use 20-year global warming potential (GWP) values because methane is estimated to be 28 to 36 greater than carbon dioxide for a 100-year time horizon but 84-87 greater GWP over a 20-year period. 

Methane Cannot Have a Significant Greenhouse Effect

Methane Policy

NYS GHG Inventory

The Climate Act required the New York Department of Environmental Conservation to calculate the baseline Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emission inventory and establish a value of carbon by the end of 2020.  New York’s unique treatment of methane figured heavily in both documents.