In 2014, NASA scientists published their discovery of a methane “hot spot” hovering over New Mexico’s San Juan Basin. The 2,500-square-mile methane cloud is the largest area of elevated methane concentration ever measured in the U.S., and is so big scientists can spot it from space.
While some have tried to debate the cause of the hot spot, it is more than mere coincidence that the San Juan Basin is one of the most productive natural gas fields in North America, and that oil and gas development is the leading industrial cause of methane emissions nationally.
Manmade methane emissions are an urgent concern for scientists and policy makers since they are responsible for about a quarter of current global warming, which is why Scientists from NASA and NOAA embarked on a series of studies to try to pinpoint the source of New Mexico’s methane cloud.
In 2016 NASA researchers concluded that many of the region’s highest-emitting sources were associated with the region’s oil and gas production and distribution infrastructure. Now yet another study confirms this tie and should put the hot spot debate to rest.
For the latest hot spot study, this one published in Environmental Science and Technology, researchers used aircraft to measure methane concentrations in the atmosphere over the four corners region over a five day period. The airborne mass balance approach used in the study (which measures methane concentration and wind speed in order to calculate regional emissions) found that high methane emissions from 2003 – 2009 have persisted to 2015. Although the San Juan includes other methane sources such as coal mines and geologic seepage, these sources are not large enough to explain the bulk of emissions.
Courtesy of NM Political Report