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Overview of Greenhouse Gases

In 2016, methane (CH4) accounted for about 10 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. Human activities emitting methane include leaks from natural gas systems and the raising of livestock. Methane is also emitted by natural sources such as natural wetlands. In addition, natural processes in soil and chemical reactions in the atmosphere help remove CH4 from the atmosphere. Methane's lifetime in the atmosphere is much shorter than carbon dioxide (CO2), but CH4 is more efficient at trapping radiation than CO2. Pound for pound, the comparative impact of CH4 is more than 25 times greater than CO2 over a 100-year period.1

Globally, over 60 percent of total CH4 emissions come from human activities.2 Methane is emitted from industry, agriculture, and waste management activities, described below.

Note: All emission estimates from the Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2016.

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Energy and Industry. Natural gas and petroleum systems are the largest source of CH4 emissions in the United States. Methane is the primary component of natural gas. Methane is emitted to the atmosphere during the production, processing, storage, transmission, and distribution of natural gas. Because gas is often found alongside petroleum, the production, refinement, transportation, and storage of crude oil is also a source of CH4 emissions. For more information, see the Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks sections on Natural Gas Systems and Petroleum Systems.
Agriculture. Domestic livestock such as cattle, buffalo, sheep, and goats produce large amounts of CH4 as part of their normal digestive process. Also, when animals' manure is stored or managed in lagoons or holding tanks, CH4 is produced. Because humans raise these animals for food and other products, the emissions are considered human-related. When livestock and manure emissions are combined, the Agriculture sector is the primary source of CH4 emissions. For more information, see the Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks Agriculture chapter.
Waste from Homes and Businesses. Methane is generated in landfills as waste decomposes and in the treatment of wastewater. Landfills are the third largest source of CH4 emissions in the United States. For more information, see the Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks Waste chapter.
Methane is also emitted from a number of natural sources. Natural wetlands are the largest source, emitting CH4 from bacteria that decompose organic materials in the absence of oxygen. Smaller sources include termites, oceans, sediments, volcanoes, and wildfires.

To find out more about the role of CH4 in warming the atmosphere and its sources, visit the Climate Change Indicators page.

Emissions and Trends
Methane emissions in the United States decreased by 16 percent between 1990 and 2016. During this time period, emissions increased from sources associated with agricultural activities, while emissions decreased from sources associated with landfills, coal mining, and the exploration through distribution of natural gas and petroleum products.

Note: All emission estimates from the Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2016. These estimates use a global warming potential for methane of 25, based on reporting requirements under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

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Reducing Methane Emissions
There are a number of ways to reduce CH4 emissions. Some examples are discussed below. EPA has a series of voluntary programs for reducing CH4 emissions, in addition to regulatory initiatives. EPA also supports the Global Methane Initiative EXIT, an international partnership encouraging global methane reduction strategies.

Examples of Reduction Opportunities for Methane
Emissions Source How Emissions Can be Reduced
Upgrading the equipment used to produce, store, and transport oil and gas can reduce many of the leaks that contribute to CH4 emissions. Methane from coal mines can also be captured and used for energy. Learn more about the EPA's Natural Gas STAR Program and Coalbed Methane Outreach Program.

Methane from manure management practices can be reduced and captured by altering manure management strategies. Additionally, modifications to animal feeding practices may reduce emissions from enteric fermentation. Learn more about improved manure management practices at EPA's AgSTAR Program.

Waste from Homes and Businesses
Because CH4 emissions from landfill gas are a major source of CH4 emissions in the United States, emission controls that capture landfill CH4 are an effective reduction strategy. Learn more about these opportunities and the EPA's Landfill Methane Outreach Program.

1  IPCC (2007) Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. [S. Solomon, D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M. Tignor and H.L. Miller (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, United Kingdom 996 pp.

2 EPA (2010). Methane and Nitrous Oxide Emissions from Natural Sources. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, USA.

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