Now It’s Much Ado About Methane

Posted on Sun 01/02/2022 by


By Dr. John Happs ~

It would appear that climate alarmists and associated vested interest groups might have decided that an increasing number of politicians and members of the public no longer see the trivial amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide as having much of a role to play in our ever-changing climate and the weather extremes the planet has always experienced.

This realisation might have dawned on them after 26 pointless Conferences of the Parties (COPS), during which thousands of hypocritical delegates flew hundreds of private jets to locations around the world to achieve absolutely nothing.  Despite those many COP talk-fests, most developed nations have shown no inclination to reduce their industrial activity and lower their standards of living. Developing nations, including India, China and Indonesia have flatly refused to do so.

If it was carbon dioxide emission reductions the climate alarmists were seeking, the result from all that wasted taxpayer money on the 26 COP meetings appears to have delivered the exact opposite:

Populations in developed and modernised countries are wealthier and likely healthier than those in developing nations and the link with invisible, non-toxic, life-giving carbon dioxide emissions is clear:

Perhaps climate alarmists have also come to realise that more people are now aware that atmospheric carbon dioxide has never driven global temperature at any time over the last 500 million years and fails to do so now:

Historical Global Carbon Dioxide Concentration Levels

Hopefully, many climate alarmists have realised that, of the trivial 0.04% of atmospheric carbon dioxide, human activity worldwide contributes a mere 3% of that total and any restrictions on industry are pointless. Political talk about a “climate emergency” and the pursuit of “Net Zero Emissions” defy common sense.

We can’t expect the above to deter the green zealots from ramping up their scary “climate change will be the end of us” claims since they are not interested in facts. They simply want to stop all development and if they can’t reduce carbon dioxide emissions, they will simply move on to something else and the vested interests will be watching from the wings.

There is much money to be made by those many vested interests in emissions reduction if only the public and politicians can be convinced of the need for more inefficient, unreliable wind and solar sources of electricity.  Some have already been persuaded that there is an urgent need to embrace the futile pursuit of a hydrogen economy, the ridiculous and pointless expenditure on carbon (dioxide) sequestration and the almost comical proposal to run all Australia’s cars and trucks on electricity.

Of course, this nonsense will be cheered on by an uncritical, sensational and largely scientifically-illiterate media along with green NGO’s that rake in millions of tax-free dollars each year with their claims of helping to save the environment and all the flora and fauna that go with it.  Why not contribute $20 per month to save a polar bear or other animal that doesn’t need saving?

We shouldn’t expect any skepticism from those grant-hungry scientists who continue to churn out alarmist papers destined to be published in journals by uncritical editors who know that climate alarm articles are needed to bolster their circulation numbers whilst keeping the climate gravy-train rolling.

Methane molecule:

In anticipation that the public and politicians might not be embracing the “carbon dioxide – catastrophic global warming” story any longer, a new “global warming peril” is being promoted by climate alarmists, in the form of methane gas. The methane CH4 molecule is shown here at right, with its central carbon atom surrounded by 4 atoms of hydrogen.

Many will remember anti-coal seam gas campaigner Drew Hutton who sensationally alerted the media in 2012 to the bubbling of methane gas in the Condamine River near Chinchilla in Queensland, Australia.

ABC News: Scott Kyle

Naturally, the media were all over the story and, without any evidence, Hutton quickly blamed Origin Energy’s exploration activity in the region.  Never mind that none of Origin Energy’s test wells were producing coal seam gas at the time and the bubbling of methane gas in the Condamine River had been observed and reported for more than 100 years.

Ignoring that fact, New South Wales Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham claimed that the emission of methane in the river was proof that Origin’s exploration is unsafe.  Deliberately igniting the flammable methane, Buckingham (less than calmly) declared his ignorance, exclaiming:

“Holy f***. Unbelievable. A river on fire. The most incredible thing I’ve seen. A tragedy in the Murray-Darling Basin.”


“This is the future of Australia and the Murray-Darling Basin if we do not stop the frackers who wants to spread across all states and territories … this is utterly unacceptable.”

Quick to push the alarmist bandwagon further, Lock the Gate Alliance activist group’s President Drew Hutton said that the gas could explode if it reached a certain concentration. He added:

“I don’t think there is any doubt this extensive leak is linked to the coal seam gas drilling, and probably fracking, that is occurring in nearby wells.”

Not surprisingly, Green’s Senator Larissa Waters added to the hysteria saying that the emission of methane in the Condamine River shows the need for a 5 year moratorium on fracking.

In a more measured response, Queensland’s Natural Resources Minister Andrew Cripps said that he was disappointed anti-coal seam gas groups appeared to be using this natural incident to push a political agenda.

Dr. Damian Barrett from the CSIRO has been monitoring the Condamine gas seeps and said:

“We know that methane is coming to the surface along a fault line, a very small fault line that occurs and intersects with the river.”

Further research by the CSIRO concluded that:

“Hydraulic fracturing is unlikely to be the cause of bubbling in the Condamine River because to date there has been no hydraulic fracturing by the CSG industry in these productive fields.”


“The combination of fractured formations and permeability beneath the Condamine River allows migration of methane to the surface.”

A geological cross-section of the Surat Basin and Condamine River alluvium shows the pathway from the Walloon Coal Measures, where methane is formed, to the Condamine River where it is released:

The alarmist versus rational explanations for methane emissions in the Condamine River typify the positions best summarised by Bertrand Russell who said:

“If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it.  On the other hand, if he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence.”

History shows that the spontaneous ignition of methane from wetland and other areas is not uncommon and has led to ghostly stories about “Jack-o-Lantern” and “Will-o-the-wisp” as a phantom light that haunts the moors and bogs of England. “Will-o-the-wisp” has been referred to by Shakespeare, John Milton, JRR Tolkein, JK Rowling and it appears in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

The combustion of methane gas can occur naturally when it is accompanied by phosphine (PH3) or di-phosphane (P2H4) gases. These gases can ignite spontaneously when they come into contact with air. Once ignited, methane produces carbon dioxide and water vapour, represented by the equation:  CH4 + 2O2 → CO2 + 2H2O

This spontaneous combustion of methane sometimes leads to the appearance of a burning ball of fire that seems to hover above marshy ground.


These natural events have been known to scientists for hundreds of years. Alessandro Volta (1745-1827) knew that methane (marsh gas) could reach the surface and ignite naturally. Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) discussed the phenomenon in his book: “Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of Air.”  Pierre de Saint-Lazare (1741-1800) discussed the phenomenon in his book: “De L’electricite des meteores” and Charles Tomlinson (1808-1897) discussed the phenomenon in his book: “On Certain Low-Lying Meteors.”

This process has been replicated and explained by scientists such as Mills (1980), Garlaschelli and Boschetti (2008) and Derr and Persinger (1993).

Methane can be generated in coal seams by biological (biogenic) or physical processes (thermogenic) and, being a flammable gas, has resulted in numerous explosions and deaths in coal mines around the world where methane gas has mixed with coal dust and ignited explosively by a spark or naked flame.

The 1906 Courriers Colliery disaster in France killed more than 1,000 workers and the 1942 Benxihu Colliery disaster in China killed more than 1,500 workers

More recently, the 2021 explosion in a Siberian coal mine killed more than 50 miners and rescuers.

Under the Coal Mine Safety and Health Act 1999, and the Coal Mining Safety and Health Regulation 2017, if methane concentration is equal to or greater than 2.5% then the situation is dangerous and workers must be withdrawn from the mine. Methane is explosive at a concentration between 5% and 15%.

Above ground, some methane transmission from land to the atmosphere comes from human-related activities such as oil and natural gas development and climate alarmists have been quick to claim that this activity is the main contributor to (imaginary) global warming.

Human inputs of methane are minimal compared with the natural seepage of methane that occurs around the world wherever micro-organisms break down organic matter such as wetland areas and landfills. Ironically, the wetlands, assiduously protected and expanded by Green groups, contribute around 80% of global methane emissions from natural sources.

Where wetlands are accompanied by trees, even more methane is released as tree roots act as methane transporting systems allowing the gas to vent into the atmosphere from the tree trunks.


Termite and cockroach activity produces up to 12% of global methane emissions when microbes in their gut produce the gas. Individual termites and cockroaches might only produce small amounts of methane on a daily basis but multiply this small amount by the global population of termites and cockroaches and their emissions add up to an estimated 23 million tonnes of methane every year.

Termite mound near Darwin: Photo by Dr. John Happs

Globally, ocean venting adds around 8% of global methane emissions via the anaerobic (oxygen-free) digestion process in sediments, ocean zooplankton and fish:

Ocean waves:

Research by Dr. Andreia Plaza Faverola et al. has shown that significant amounts of methane are released from the Arctic Ocean and they have shown how the moon influences the intensity of methane emissions from the seafloor.  Plaza Faverola commented:

“We noticed that gas accumulations, which are in the sediments within a meter from the seafloor, are vulnerable to even slight pressure changes in the water column. Low tide means less of such hydrostatic pressure and higher intensity of methane release. High tide equals high pressure and lower intensity of the release.”


“This tells us that gas release from the seafloor is more widespread than we can see using traditional sonar surveys. We saw no bubbles or columns of gas in the water. Gas burps that have a periodicity of several hours won’t be identified unless there is a permanent monitoring tool in place, such as the piezometer.”

Full moon:

Methane molecule trapped by frozen water molecules:

Methane is stored naturally in very cold environments such as peat bogs located in Tundra regions. Methane-water structures called methane hydrates or clathrates can form in cold, oxygen poor environments where they are trapped in frozen soil (permafrost), typically found in the arctic and sub-arctic regions:

Warming of the permafrost can lead to the melting of water-ice and the release of flammable methane gas. Methane hydrate is sometimes given the name “flammable ice.”

Methane burning after warming clathrates:

Despite the usual alarm about massive methane release and global warming from the media and Green zealots, Dr. John Kessler and Dr. Carolyn Ruppel have concluded that large-scale release of methane from clathrates is simply not happening:

“After so many years spent determining where gas hydrates are breaking down and measuring methane flux at the sea-air interface, we suggest that conclusive evidence for release of hydrate-related methane to the atmosphere is lacking.”

Dr. Virginia Burkett also challenges the media and Green group hysteria about methane release:

“The authors’ sober, data-driven analyses and conclusions challenge the popular perception that warming climate will lead to a catastrophic release of methane to the atmosphere as a result of gas hydrate breakdown.”

Climate alarmists continue to argue that (imaginary) global warming is releasing large amounts of methane from the sea floor but researchers point out this is not the case.  They show that post-glacial uplift is the main cause of methane hydrate breakdown.

Dr. Klaus Wallmann reported:

“Our investigations show that uplift of the sea floor in this region caused by the melting of the ice masses since the end of the last ice age is probably the reason for the dissolution of methane hydrate, which is already ongoing for several thousand years.”


“The region has raised more than the sea level has risen, causing a pressure relief, so that the methane hydrates dissociate at the stability limit.”

The team of scientists was able to prove that this process started 8,000 years ago, and therefore cannot be attributed to global warming as climate alarmists would have us believe.

Methane is released from rift valleys, volcanoes and the many geological vents at the Earth’s surface and ocean floor. Methane occurs naturally in groundwater and relatively small terrestrial emissions arise from the digestive processes of ruminant animals such as goats, sheep and cattle. This enteric fermentation is generated by micro-organisms in the stomach of many animals with research funding (follow the money) now going into studies to bring about low methane emitting cattle.

Waters et al. have studied:

The benefits of utilizing a new concept termed residual methane emissions (RME) to select low methane emitting animals without impacting animal productivity.”

Waters adds:

“Considering the recent greenhouse gas emissions targets set out in the government’s Climate Action Plan and particularly our requirement to reduce biogenic methane, the RumenPredict project demonstrates the future potential to breed beef cattle with lower methane emissions.”

Microbial activity in cultivated rice fields also represents a measurable source of methane and around 3 billion people depend on solid biofuels such as wood, agricultural waste and animal dung for cooking, heating and lighting. The incomplete combustion of these biofuels also leads to more methane emissions.

Common sources of methane are shown here: (The text on the image is not easy to see, as the image is sized to fit the page. If you click on the image, it will open on a new page and at a much larger size so you can see that text for the sources of Methane.)

Common methane sources: EPA, New South Wales Government

Saturn’s moon Enceladus:

Those climate alarmists who argue that methane is produced solely by human and cattle activity need to reflect on the findings of the Cassini space-probe that examined Saturn’s moon Enceladus where it found water, hydrogen and methane under the moon’s ice-covered surface.

This poses the question: Is the methane on Enceladus the result of natural chemical reactions or does this represent the activity of living methanogens?

The Cassini probe found that another moon of Saturn, Titan has an atmosphere made up mainly of methane gas and more than 1.6 million sq km of its surface is covered in liquid with the 160 metre deep Ligeia Mare, the second largest sea on Titan, similar in size to Lake Huron and Lake Michigan combined.  A sea that was shown to be methane-rich.

Hysteria about methane in the Earth’s atmosphere is not supported by facts.

Methane, although a more powerful so-called greenhouse gas, (20 times greater than carbon dioxide) is present in the atmosphere in such minute quantities (it is measured in parts per billion) and the increase in atmospheric levels of methane since the 1980’s is shown here:

Perhaps those alarmists who claim that human activity is responsible for increasing concentrations of atmospheric methane can explain why there was no increase between 1998 and 2008.

Methane is a colourless, odourless, tasteless gas that is mostly removed from the atmosphere in 8 to 12 years (estimates vary). Methane is essentially destroyed by ultraviolet light.

Atmospheric scientists, Dr. William Happer from Princeton University and Dr. William van Wijngaarden from York University, Canada, have shown that methane contributes virtually nothing to global warming.

Numerous laboratory experiments have demonstrated why methane and carbon dioxide are irrelevant as greenhouse gases and it’s all about the process of absorption across the electromagnetic spectrum:

Electromagnetic spectrum:

Different gas molecules in the atmosphere absorb different wavelengths of incoming radiation with nitrogen and oxygen absorbing ultraviolet radiation in the stratosphere resulting in ozone formation.

The so-called greenhouse gases (methane, carbon dioxide and the more dominant water vapour) allow most of the incoming short-wave radiation to pass through the atmosphere to strike the surface of the Earth.  Should those gases intercept any of the upward long-wave radiation (infrared) reflected from the Earth’s surface, this will result in some warming. Essentially from the more abundant water vapour.

The three main wavelengths that can be absorbed by the linear molecule carbon dioxide are around 4.3 microns and 7.2 microns, with a broad band around 15 microns.

After Barrett Bellamy Climate

Of those 3, only the 15-micron wavelength is significant because it falls in the range of the infrared frequencies reflected from the Earth’s surface.

(The micron or micrometre equals 1X10-6 metre or 1 millionth of a metre)

The warming effect of carbon dioxide is neither linear nor exponential. It is logarithmic and has been well explained by Dr. Martin Hertzberg and Dr. William Happer:

Dr. William Happer, Professor of Atmospheric Physics at Princeton University, explained to the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, U.S. House of Representatives:

“Well over half of the greenhouse warming is due to water vapor and clouds. There is little argument in the scientific community that a direct effect of doubling the CO2 concentration will be a small increase of the earth’s temperature — on the order of one degree Kelvin. Additional increments of CO2 will cause relatively less direct warming because we already have so much CO2 in the atmosphere that it has blocked most of the infrared radiation that it can.”

He explained further:

“To get the frightening global warming scenarios that are bandied about, the added CO2 must substantially increase water’s contribution to warming. The jargon is “positive feedback” from water vapor and clouds. With each passing year, experimental observations further undermine the claim of a large positive feedback from water. In fact, observations suggest that the feedback is close to zero and may even be negative.”  (My emphasis)

The bent water molecule is abundant in the atmosphere and has more vibrational modes and therefore absorbs at more frequencies. These include most of the radiation that would otherwise be absorbed by atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane.

Air near the Earth’s surface contains up to 4% of water vapour and, with so much water vapour in the atmosphere, the trivial amount of carbon dioxide (0.04%) is irrelevant as is the more trivial amount of methane (1800 ppb).

Little wonder then that global temperature has failed to follow rising concentrations (a 40% increase since the Industrial Revolution) of atmospheric carbon dioxide:

Note again that methane levels are measured in parts per billion and its absorption capacity is completely swamped by that of water vapour:

In summary, methane is totally irrelevant as a so-called greenhouse gas and the political/ideological Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is fully aware of this fact and has acknowledged that current levels of methane in the atmosphere cannot result in any measurable warming.

The IPCC’s third report (TAR3) also noted that atmospheric temperature increase, with increasing carbon dioxide inputs, rapidly diminishes as concentrations increase, as explained by Hertzberg and Happer.

(Chapter 6. Radiative Forcing of Climate Change: section 6.3.4 Total Well-Mixed Greenhouse Gas Forcing Estimate).

The IPCC knows that the alarmist’s claim of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming from carbon dioxide and methane inputs is without foundation so why wasn’t this fact reported in the IPCC’s Summary for Policymakers?

This summary document was made available to the media and politicians, knowing that few would read and understand the scientific report.  Claims of IPCC sleight of hand, courtesy of UN officials, should be taken seriously.

The media, politicians and green group hysteria about the need to lower carbon dioxide emissions to “stop climate change” by reducing industrial activity, is without any factual basis.

Moreover, any claim that the trivial levels of atmospheric methane is dangerous, along with calls to lower methane levels by targeting agricultural and dairy industries, are clearly absurd.

Dr. John Happs M.Sc.1st Class; D.Phil. John has an academic background in the geosciences with special interests in climate, and paleoclimate. He has been a science educator at several universities in Australia and overseas and was President of the Western Australian Skeptics for 25 years.