Scientists have known for years that methane, emitted by cows and landfills alike, is a potent ingredient in global warming — unless the gas is collected and used for fuel.
Yet methane hasn’t gotten anywhere near the same attention as carbon dioxide from governments and businesses aiming to stop climate change without hindering economies.
That is changing now as methane makes headlines because of new numbers showing more leakage than previously thought from natural gas wells and pipelines. Some critics say natural gas is a worse climate-change polluter than coal. That’s hotly disputed by energy companies.
“Methane, especially from the natural gas industry, has come much more to the fore very recently, since early 2011,” said Vignesh Gowrishankar, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
One reason for the sudden attention: Last year, the EPA revised years of data to show that the leading source of methane emissions nationally wasn’t livestock flatulence — it was natural gas production.