The gas escapes from drilling rigs, compressors and pipelines, and above energy-rich northern New Mexico it forms a vast cloud that can be seen from space.
Although methane is colorless and odorless, the cloud of accumulated methane over New Mexico can be observed by using advanced satellite imaging technology.
According to the Washington Post, the Delaware-sized methane cloud is so huge that scientists questioned their own data when they first studied it three years ago. The phenomenon, which was verified by NASA and University of Michigan scientists in October, is the most dramatic example of the loss of methane from energy production sites across the country.
NASA estimated the average extent of the gas plume over the past decade at 2,500 square miles. And the problem may get worse — that estimate does not take account of the recent gas and oil drilling boom.
Figures from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency show that methane is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted in the United States from human activities, accounting for about 9 percent. The biggest single source is the oil and gas industry, which is responsible for 29 percent of methane emissions.
Each year, oil and gas producers lose 8 million metric tons of methane a year through both planned and unintentional releases of the gas. If that could be captured and used, it’s enough to provide power to a population the size of Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia combined.