What to do to avoid having The Methane Bomb tip out.
-- The Precautionary Principle
If you have a neighbor with a gambling problem, you don’t just go
next door and tell him/her they are putting the future of their
family at risk, by exposing themselves to known risks that
mathematically favor the casino. Because gambling addiction
requires the intervention of professionals.
What do you do with Government committing the nation, your sovereign
nation, to risks where you absolutely can’t win, but the real
problem is that it sets up their and your grandkids for a 100% sure
loss of any habitable future? Knock on the door? Get a
professional therapist? Knock the door down? OK, step
back and study the risk so you can explain it to enough other
neighbors to take ANY and all action because inaction is, in a real
We know that the natural methane cycle involves natural sources of
methane stemming from the anaerobic decomposition of decaying matter
that is found in wetlands together with animal and termite
digestion. The methane itself decomposes into CO2 with a
12-year half-life. Before industrialization, the global
methane source-sink balance was stable. The natural and
anthropogenic sources of methane are depicted in Figure 1.
Figure 1 Sources of Methane: (see appendix for information
Since methane is such a powerful Greenhouse Gas, with 84x more
global warming capacity than CO2, it is possible for human-sourced
methane to overdrive the planet’s natural balance. Global
warming is the response to the combined effect of accumulated CO2
and CH4 (methane) plus other pollutants.
Natural sources also include the release of methane captured in
decayed matter frozen into permafrost in the Arctic. With the
high increase in average annual temperatures in the Arctic (+5F),
the natural response is to release that captivated methane.
We find in Figure 2 that the trend, before significant artic methane
release, is toward increasing concentration every year, despite the
CH4 half-life. The risk of a sudden release of Arctic methane
in response to increasing Arctic temperatures would further increase
GHG-driven Arctic methane releases. We do not know for certain
how close the planet is to the Arctic temperature where methane
release starts tipping uncontrollably past its current retention
state. We also do not know if the Methane Bomb is a standing
threat or not. Making it a gambler’s risk, with no chance of a
Figure 2 Methane Concentration History
Some evidence points to 1.5 deg C as a likely threshold for
permafrost melt. An examination of caves in Siberia found
geologic evidence that permafrost melting occurred at 1.5 deg C
above the historic average temperature (New Scientist).
Regarding the possibility of a methane runaway tipping point
temperature, the same experts opined no risk, with no evidence
given, because soil microbes consume some methane. This was
before methane started forming post-blowout craters in Siberia.
The answers to two questions will decide the mass extinction of
1) Is there an Arctic runaway methane risk ?
2) If so, what is the trigger threshold temperature?
You would think there would be settled science on these existential
questions. There is no question in science that is more
consequential that that for runaway methane. It remains open
and neglected. Even if you are not a problem gambler,
but no definitive answers to these two existentials, there is still
no choice but to make worst-case contingency plans.
An Emergency Management Plan for the Onset of Methane Runaway.
Given the dire consequences of exceeding the unknown Arctic Tipping
Point temperature, a corporate-style risk management plan would be
advisable. There is no such plan as we drive our planet
forward into a risky unknown future. Maybe we should start
1. Risk Analysis
Human-sourced methane (65% before the tip) could conceivably be
controlled and cut faster than the Arctic methane tips out.
Which sources are controllable? The extent of controllability
is depicted in Figure 3.
Rice cultivation cannot be stopped under any conceivable
circumstances, nor waste decomposition, nor enteric methane from
domestic ruminants. That leaves fossil fuels (29% of human
sources) and biogas burning (14% of human sources), for a total of
43% of human sourced methane. This equates to 28% of all
Figure 3 Controllable Sources
The range of control is 28%. A spike in Artic methane that
occurs before human sources can be cut would render the climate
uncontrollable – just think about the math, not the
extinctions. To date, no controls have been demonstrated even
without a postulated methane crisis.
2. Risk Management
Permitting an exceedance of the unknown Artic Tipping Point Temp is
not management of risk. Foreclosing the possibility of this
How would this foreclosure occur? The market for natural gas
is well established but not well understood, given the inability to
predict natural gas market valuation. The most obvious steps
are no surprise.
Perform gas infrastructure end-to-end Leak Detection and Repair
(LDAR). There is no industry mandate to accomplish this
(neither from regulators or civic-minded stakeholders). The
only attention to this critical issue is from the US Government
Accounting Office (GAO) report:
(1) Defines levels of performance and address all core program
(2) Uses budget data to refine performance goals for its gas storage
This GAO report has been issued in response to the discovery of
unreported long term methane leaks like the Sabine Pass LNG Export
Extensive infrastructure repair would be necessary for certification
of a leak-free gas grid. The current gas grid is too leaky to
take advantage of renewable natural gas (RNG). Leaking RNG,
thereby defeating its climate benefits, is categorically insane
under the current methane threat. So too would be the
proliferation of back yard biodigesters – they must be outlawed with
severe penalties. Survivalists take note.
Locate and cap all abandoned gas well bores. There is no
industry mandate to accomplish this (neither from regulators or
civic minded-stakeholders). The number of unlocated rogue
wells is astounding.
Target a gas price that is 2x the average from the last 10
years. Start shutting down well production until this price is
reached. This is a measure of market sensitivity, currently
unknown, that balances market demand against the unknown Tipping
Temperature margin. This is the Tillerson-Tipping pain index
for possible emergency methane shutdown of all gas and oil methane
sources on the planet. No one can prove that this will never
be necessary. And it’s possible that this could be sufficient
to avoid dire consequences - if managed. BTW there has been no
management, is no management, and there will be no management until
beneficial authority is instituted The proof of “no
management” is abundantly evident in Figure 4.
Biogas burning would possibly offer sustainability advantages were
it not for the Artic threat, so a categorical biogas shutdown is
Figure 4 Climate policy work has had no measurable effect
for 40 years
3. Risk Mitigation Math
We can understand in general terms what happens when a methane
source is cut. Take a plume of methane that has been released
for a day and then cut off completely. After 12 years the
original plume is half what it was, because half the plume has
dissipated into CO2. Another 12 years and it is down another
half. At what point is it down to 1/84th of the original
amount? When it has completely dissipated into CO2.
The math says for all practical purposes this takes 73 years, as
depicted in Figure 5, which shows the lifetime of a single plume of
CH4 released into the atmosphere. The strength of that plume
declines in each subsequent year, shown as blue bars.
The next question is, if the one-day plume has dissipated, and we
know this helps the planet, when does the average global temperature
respond by declining to some extent? This math is less
intuitive and the question probes another unknown – climate
sensitivity. The best we have is a collection of models (you
should believe in models – you have nothing better).
Figure 5 Lifetime of a Methane Plume
One blogger report suggested that the time for Earth to respond to
increasing climate pollution is 40 years, a Climate Lag due to the
heat retention of ocean waters. (Blog) The lag time for
cooling is no different from that for heating. From extensive
modeling of this cooling delay we now think it takes 30 years for
the Earth to get better if you take away a climate-forcing factor
(CO2, CH4, or some other pollutant). (Climate Lag
Models) This response, though it needs more work because it is
such a poorly known and survival-critical behavior, is given only
approximately as shown in Figure 6.
Figure 6 The Approximate Earth Response Characteristic
In this figure Rapid Mitigation starts in 2030 when the model begins
a reduction in total carbon emissions of 4% to 6% per year
(historically this is very rapid). In this scenario
temperature peaks 30 years later, meaning its not going to take full
effect 5 or 10 or even 20 years after starting mitigation.
Summary of Risk Mitigation Math:
1. Heat trapping capacity of a methane plume dissipates
in 73 years.
2. Methane is controllable.
3. The Earth responds in 30 years if you cut all methane tomorrow.
4. Chances are that Arctic methane will tip out in the next 30
years while waiting for global average temperature to peak and
5. The longer methane is allowed to feed GHG concentrations,
the more likely methane runaway will exceed anyone’s ability to
6. While we must continue to wait for any carbon sequestration
technology to be demonstrated economically at scale, the only
option available is to shut down all methane extraction and hope
for the best.
Even capping methane will not halt the massive carbon release every
year as summarized in Figure 7.
Figure 7 Total CO2 emissions increase every year
Rather than wait until we know everything about the business and
economic damage posed by ongoing climate damage, while business and
financial interests actively oppose any payment for their known
share of damage to the planet, you can plainly see there is enough
information to act decisively now.
If effective intervention is taken soon as depicted in Figure C1 it
is possible to see that the eventual risks could be avoided 10 years
early, even after the 30 year Climate Lag.
In Figure C2, you see the consequence of allowing the Climate Lag to
make your genius, high-cost, planet saving intervention(s) arrive 10
years late. Incidentally, the listed hazards (we don’t know
all of them yet) can trigger each other into an unstoppable
Your populist, impulsive neighbors with the gambling problem think
they can shave it close and win big. They need to go
away. Lemmings looking for a cliff somewhere.
Your Near Term Extinction Management Plan
Cut Methane Production to Zero
While You Can
Source of Figure 1 data:
Here is what we find in the IPCC WG1AR5 Chapter 6 at:
We take the data from their Figure 6.2 and re-arrange it for ease of