Methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, is thought to be responsible for more than a quarter of global warming experienced to date. Controlling it is such an urgent priority that President Joe Biden recently hosted a “Methane Summit” at the White House.
Most of the problem stems from just a few kinds of places: natural gas wells and pipelines, cattle feedlots, coal mines, rice paddies, and landfills. But occasionally, the scientists who hunt for large methane releases find them in surprising spots. Such was the case on June 4, when a plume of the gas was detected at the sprawling ranch in West Texas where billionaire Jeff Bezos tests space rockets.
It turns out that Bezos’s space company, Blue Origin LLC, routinely emits the stuff because it’s developing a rocket that runs on liquefied natural gas, which is almost pure methane. The June release was detected by an instrument on board the International Space Station, which happened to be zooming past that day. The nonprofit group Carbon Mapper analyzed the readings and estimated the gas was escaping at about 1.5 metric tons per hour. There’s no indication of how long it lasted.