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1. What is methane?
Methane (CH4) is a hydrocarbon that is a primary component of natural gas. Methane is also a "greenhouse gas," or GHG, meaning that its presence in the atmosphere affects the earth’s temperature and climate system. Methane is the second most prevalent human-influenced GHG next to carbon dioxide (CO2).
2. Why is there concern about methane emissions?
Methane is more than 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere and contributing to global warming. Over the last two centuries, methane concentrations in the atmosphere have more than doubled, largely due to human-related activities. Methane accounted for 20.7 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions from human activities in 2013. Because methane is both a powerful greenhouse gas and short-lived compared to carbon dioxide, achieving significant reductions would have a rapid and significant effect on atmospheric warming potential.
3. Where does methane come from?
Methane is emitted from a variety of both anthropogenic (human-influenced) and natural sources. Anthropogenic emission sources include landfills, oil and natural gas systems, agricultural activities, coal mining, stationary and mobile combustion, wastewater treatment, and certain industrial processes.
4. Who are the biggest methane emitters?
China, the United States, Russia, India, Brazil, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Mexico are estimated to be responsible for nearly half of all anthropogenic methane emissions. The major methane emission sources for these countries vary greatly. For example, a key source of methane emissions in China is coal production, whereas Russia emits most of its methane from natural gas and oil systems. Oil and gas systems are the largest source of U.S. methane emissions (29 percent), followed by livestock enteric fermentation (26 percent).
5. Why concentrate on actions to capture and use methane as an energy source?
Reducing methane emissions has many important energy, safety, economic, and environmental benefits. First, because methane is both a potent GHG and has a short atmospheric lifetime of 12 years, methane reductions can produce significant near-term results. In addition, methane is the primary component of natural gas. Thus, the collection and utilization of methane provides a valuable, clean-burning energy source that improves quality of life in local communities and can generate revenue and improve living standards. Producing energy from recovered methane can also replace higher-emitting energy resources such as wood, coal, or oil. This can reduce end-user and power plant emissions of CO2 and air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide (a major acid rain contributor), particulate matter (a respiratory health concern), and trace hazardous air pollutants. Capturing methane from coal mines can also improve safety conditions by reducing explosion hazards.
6. What efforts are being made in the United States to capture and use methane emissions?
U.S. industries—along with state and local governments—collaborate with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to implement several voluntary programs that promote profitable opportunities for reducing emissions of methane. These programs are designed to overcome a wide range of informational, technical, and institutional barriers to reducing methane emissions, while creating profitable activities for the coal, natural gas, petroleum, landfill, and agricultural industries.
Many of the available methane emission reduction opportunities involve the recovery of methane emissions and use of the methane as fuel for electricity generation, on-site uses, or off-site sales of methane. For example, in the case of coal mining methane is removed from underground mines either in advance of mining, during mining activities, or after mining has occurred to reduce explosion hazards. Instead of releasing this methane to the atmosphere, profitable uses for the methane can be identified and implemented. Some of these options include natural gas pipeline injection, power production, co-firing in boilers, district heating, coal drying, and vehicle fuel. For more information on methane reduction opportunities and EPA’s voluntary programs, please visit EPA’s web site.
7. Have efforts to reduce methane emissions in the United States been successful?
Methane (CH4) emissions in the United States decreased by almost 15% between 1990 and 2013. The collective results of EPA’s voluntary methane partnership programs, which started in 1993 and 1994, have been substantial. These programs – AgSTAR, Natural Gas STAR, Landfill Methane Outreach Program, and Coalbed Methane Outreach Program – reduced U.S. emissions by 75.0 MMTCO2e in 2013. EPA expects that these programs will maintain significant emissions reductions in the future due to expanded industry participation and the continuing commitment of the participating companies, municipalities, and other organizations to identify and implement cost-effective technologies and practices. Please see the Office of Atmospheric Programs’ Annual Report for further details.
8. Why aren’t efforts to capture and profitably use methane emissions more widespread?
Despite multiple benefits, methane recovery is not widespread for several reasons. First, methane is generally a secondary byproduct in the industrial processes from which it is emitted. Coal mines, for example, seek to vent methane from the mine workings because it can cause explosions. Historically, mining companies have not viewed the associated methane as an energy resource in its own right. Second, those responsible for the emissions may not be familiar with the technologies available for methane recovery or the potential for profitable recovery projects. This is especially true in developing countries where improved access to information and technical training would be beneficial to generating support for methane recovery projects. Finally, poorly functioning energy markets and financially-insolvent utilities and municipalities within many countries fail to provide the private sector with a climate that will attract their investment in projects to capture and utilize methane.
9. What is the objective of the Global Methane Initiative?
GMI is an international public-private initiative that advances cost effective, near-term methane abatement and recovery and use of methane as a clean energy source in five sectors: agriculture, coal mines, municipal solid waste, oil and gas systems, and wastewater. These projects reduce GHG emissions in the near term and provide a number of important environmental and economic co-benefits such as:
- Stimulating local economic growth
- Creating new sources of affordable alternative energy
- Improving local air and water quality, with associated public health benefits
- Increasing industrial worker safety
The Initiative aims to reduce the informational, institutional, and other market barriers to project development through the development of tools and resources, training and capacity building, technology demonstration, and direct project support. Special emphasis is given to bringing together all of the actors necessary for project development, including governments, financial institutions, project developers, technology providers, and others. More detailed information about the Initiative can be found in the Initiative Fact Sheet.
10. What countries are participating in the Global Methane Initiative?
Partners in this effort share certain characteristics, including generating significant levels of methane emissions, range of emission sources, special expertise, and geographic and economic significance. The United States and 13 other countries launched the Global Methane Initiative in November 2004. Since then, 28 additional national governments as well as the European Commission have joined the Initiative, for a total of 43 partners.
GMI cooperates strategically with the United Nations Environment Program’s Climate and Clean Air Coalition in the oil and natural gas, MSW, and agriculture sectors, as well as with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe in the coal mines sector.
11. What commitments do countries make that are participating in this initiative?
Participating countries sign a Terms of Reference that outlines the purpose, organization and functions of the Initiative. While the details are worked out by the Partners through a consensus-based process, core activities often include:
- Identifying and promoting areas of bilateral, multilateral, and private sector collaboration on methane recovery and use.
- Developing improved emissions estimates and identifying the largest relevant emission sources to facilitate project development.
- Identifying cost-effective opportunities to recover methane emissions for energy production and potential financing mechanisms to encourage investment.
- Improving the legal, regulatory, financial, institutional, and other conditions necessary to attract investment in methane recovery and utilization projects.
- Identifying and implementing collaborative projects aimed at addressing specific challenges to methane recovery, such as raising awareness in key industries, removing barriers to project development and implementation, identifying project opportunities, and demonstrating technologies.
- Developing collaborative action plans that outline a series of concrete activities and actions that directly support the core goals and functions of the Initiative.
- Developing and implementing a process for evaluating progress and reporting results.
In addition, developed country partners assist developing countries and countries with economies in transition in expanding methane recovery projects through cooperative technical assistance and technology deployment. Through 2015, the U.S. has committed over $85 million to facilitate the development and implementation of methane projects in both developing countries and countries with economies in transition through a range of activities, including the export of EPA’s successful U.S. voluntary methane programs, data development and institution building, feasibility assessments and technology demonstrations.
12. Can the private sector and non-governmental organizations participate in the Global Methane Initiative?
Active involvement by private sector entities, financial institutions, and other non-governmental organizations is essential to building capacity, technology transfer, and promoting private direct investment that will ensure the Initiative’s success. The Project Network serves as an informal mechanism to facilitate communication, project development and implementation, and private sector involvement. This Network is key to reaching out to and organizing the efforts of the private sector, governmental and non-governmental organizations, including representatives from local governments, project developers, the research community, multilateral and regional development banks, and other governmental and non-governmental organizations.
13. What are the expected benefits of the Global Methane Initiative?
The Initiative has the potential to deliver cumulative reductions in methane emissions of over 500 million metric tons of carbon equivalent (MMTCE) by 2020. These measurable results would be in addition to methane reductions being achieved as part of the U.S. EPA’s domestic voluntary partnership programs.
14. How much methane will be recovered and reduced in the U.S. as a result of this partnership?
Potential methane reductions achieved by the Global Methane Initiative do not include results expected from U.S. EPA’s domestic methane emission reduction activities. Since 1993, the EPA has been collaborating with U.S. industries and state and local governments to implement several voluntary programs that promote cost-effective opportunities for reducing emissions of methane. These programs include the Natural Gas STAR Program, Landfill Methane Outreach Program, the Coalbed Methane Outreach Program and the AgSTAR Program. Collectively, these domestic programs reduced U.S. emissions by 75.0 MMTCO2e in 2013.
15. What contributions has the U.S. made to the Initiative?
As of 2014, the Initiative’s efforts have resulted in a cumulative reduction of 200 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent. Please see the latest U.S. Government’s Global Methane Initiative Accomplishments report for a summary of the contributions of participating U.S. government agencies and highlights of projects and activities.
16. What U.S. Government agencies are involved in the Global Methane Initiative?
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plays a lead role in the Initiative by building on the success of the Agency’s voluntary domestic methane partnership programs and by managing the Administrative Support Group for the Global Methane Initiative. Other federal agencies have also played a central role in the Initiative. These include the Department of State, which leads on international climate change policy and activities; the Department of Energy, which has valuable expertise in natural gas and coal mine methane technologies; the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, which facilitates development in emerging markets by promoting U.S. partnerships in high priority overseas projects; the U.S. Agency for International Development, which provides important technical expertise in the economic reform of energy sectors to create markets that support private sector projects in developing countries and those with economies in transition; and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which provides technical expertise in the animal waste management sector.