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US releases nearly 50 percent more methane than thought, report shows


Cows are washed before entering the slaughterhouse of the Frigorifico in Canelones, Uruguay. Synthetic meat would sidestep many of the environmentally taxing processes behind factory farming, which generates huge amounts of greenhouse gases and waste.


Pablo Porciuncula

A new study has shown that the United States releases nearly 50 percent more methane gas than previously estimated.

Some of that output is believed to be coming from livestock and its charming mixture of manure, belches and farts.

The estimates from the report say that in 2008, the US expelled 49 million tons of methane into the air.

That figure is a big jump from the 32 million tons and the 29 million tons that the US Environmental Protection Administration and the European Commission have estimated respectively.

Just three states were responsible for the majority of that: Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas — tates with a lot of cows and a lot of oil and gas production.

The methane also comes from leaks during the refining and drilling for oil and gas.

Scientists say that before we jump to the conclusion that it's just the cows causing this, we need to think again.

"Even if we made emissions from livestock several times higher than inventory estimates would suggest for the southwest, you still don’t get enough to cover what’s actually being observed," said Berkeley Lab scientist and study author Marc Fischer.

"That’s why it looks like oil and gas are likely responsible for a large part of the remainder… Cows don’t produce propane; oil and gas does."

Methane is 21 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping heat but does not stay in the air as long. While carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for 100 years, methane remains for about 10 years.

Both are considered major contributors to climate change.

The massive study was based on almost 13,000 measurements from airplane flights and tall towers.

The study was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.