U.S. joining other nations to reduce methane in air

WASHINGTON (AP) The United States will work with at least seven other countries to harvest methane emissions as fuel and     reduce pollution that contributes to global warming, the Bush administration announced Wednesday. The plan calls for transferring U.S. technology to other industrialized and developing nations to help them create markets for methane, which is the primary component of natural gas.

Natural gas adds less carbon dioxide and pollutants, such as ash particles, to the air when it's burned than most other fuels. But, when methane escapes into the air without being burned, it's a "greenhouse" gas that helps trap heat. (Related graphic: How the greenhouse effect works)

Text Box: Albert Straus stands next to a pile of
 cow manure being converted into
 methane gas to fuel an electrical
generator at the Straus Dairy near
 Marshall, Calif. 
Frankie Frost, Marin Independent Journal








The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that methane represents 16% of global greenhouse emissions, carbon dioxide is 74%, and various other gasses make up the other 10%.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, trapping 21 times more heat per molecule than carbon dioxide.

On the other hand, natural processes break down methane in the air to water and carbon dioxide in a decade or less while carbon dioxide can last a century. This means that reducing methane emissions would have a quicker payoff than reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

The decay of organic matter where little or no oxygen is available produces methane. Nature creates it in wetlands, where it's known as swamp gas. It's also produced in wet rice fields, in waste deposits, and in the stomachs of cattle and of termites.

Burning of forests and other vegetation adds methane to the air. Natural gas that escapes, such as from pipelines, is also a major source around the world.

The heads of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Energy Department, Bush's senior environmental adviser, and a State Department undersecretary, announced the methane reduction plan.

They described it as a transfer of commonly used technology in the United States among an initial group of seven other countries, harvesting emissions of methane primarily from landfills, coal mines and oil and gas systems.

President Bush said in a statement from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, that the nations would receive help from the government and companies "to share and expand the use of technologies to capture methane emissions that are now wasted in the course of industrial processes and use them as a new energy source."

In addition to natural gas wells, U.S. companies capture methane from coal mines and landfills for uses such as generating electricity. Because of this, methane emissions in the United States were 5% lower in 2001 than in 1990.

The United States is joining with Australia, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Britain and Ukraine to develop the methane market. Canada and Russia also sent representatives to consider joining the group.

Mike Leavitt, the EPA administrator, cited significant energy, safety and environmental benefits.

He called it "a partnership that has the double benefit of capturing the second-most abundant greenhouse gas and turning it to productive use as a clean-burning fuel."

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said the agreement "will benefit the economies of developing nations across the world."

They said it could potentially eliminate enough methane gas each year to have the effect of removing 33 million cars from highways for a year or cutting all emissions from 50 coal-burning power plants.

(Contributing: Jack Williams, USATODAY.com)