NASA: methane hotspot can be seen from space

It has been confirmed that a methane cloud above the south west of the United States can in fact be detected by satellite instruments that orbit the earth, according to a recent study by the University of Michigan and NASA.

The methane cloud currently hovers above the quadruple interstate area of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, directly above America’s most productive geological methane basin, the San Juan Basin, where oil and methane gas is being extracted for energy consumption both domestic and foreign.

It has been concluded by both NASA and the University of Michigan that the methane released has been a result of methane extraction processes. The high emissions were recorded in 2003, prior to the advent of hydraulic fracturing in 2006. Parts of the oil and gas system were leaking even before fracking, said Eric Kort, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan and lead author of the study.

This map shows anomalous U.S. methane emissions (that is, how much the emissions are higher or lower than average) for 2003-2009, as measured by SCIAMACHY. Purple and dark blue areas are below average. Pale blue and green areas are close to normal or slightly elevated. Yellows and red indicate higher than-normal anomalies, with more intense colors showing higher concentrations. The Four Corners area is the only red spot on the map. (Credit: NASA / JPL calltech / Univesity of Michigan)
This map shows anomalous U.S. methane emissions (that is, how much the emissions are higher or lower than average) for 2003-2009, as measured by SCIAMACHY. Purple and dark blue areas are below average. Pale blue and green areas are close to normal or slightly elevated. Yellows and red indicate higher than-normal anomalies, with more intense colors showing higher concentrations. The Four Corners area is the only red spot on the map.
(Image source: NASA / JPL calltech / Univesity of Michigan)

The permanent methane plume covers 2,500 square miles and is the accumulation of leaked methane, both accidental and deliberate. The methane released from the ground into the atmosphere is estimated at half a teragram (500 million kilograms) annually, about as much methane released by the United Kingdom across the oil, coal and gas industries combined.

The methane hotspot is the largest ever seen above the United States and is measured as more than  three times the ground level average.

References:

Kort, E.A., et al. 2014. Four corners: The largest US methane anomaly viewed from space. Geophysical Research Letters. [Online]. VOLUME 41 (9). [2 Jan 2015]. Available from: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2014GL061503/abstract

Dr Phillips, T (NASA). 2014. US. Methane ‘HotSpot’ Bigger than Expected – NASA Science. [online]. [1 Jan 2015]. Available from: http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2014/09oct_methanehotspot/