High concentration of methane gas in Four Corners attracts attention of scientists

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DENVER -- Scientists from across the country are coming together in the Four Corners region in hopes of solving a mystery. Satellite images indicate the air above the region is releasing the largest concentration of methane gas in the country.

The NOAA research center in Boulder is working with NASA and universities across the country in hopes of determining what is behind the leak. NOAA tracks methane levels around the world because of the impact the greenhouse gas can have on climate.

"It holds the heat so much better, 20-100 times better than carbon dioxide," said Dr. Russell Schnell with NOAA.

Satellite images do a pretty good job of pinpointing where the methane hotspot is. The highest concentration can be found between Durango, Colorado and Farmington, New Mexico, which is why NOAA is flying a special plane between the two cities in order to gather more precise readings.

'We can see when there`s a peak of methane,” Schnell said. “(The pilot) will press a button and it will grab a sample of that.”

NOAA has already begun analyzing some of the samples taken from the area. So far, tests indicate the methane is coming from natural gas, but with a concentration of oil and gas wells and coal mines in the area more research is needed.

“Every well, every species of gas, every leak has a fingerprint,” Schnell said. “So we can understand where all this material that`s in the atmosphere is coming from.”

Leaks aren't just bad for the atmosphere, they also mean millions of dollars in losses for the oil companies, meaning everyone hopes scientists can find the answer.

"It's good for them, it's good for the atmosphere, it's good for the country," Schnell said.

Scientists from several organizations will hold a meeting on Friday to discuss their findings so far. Schnell says they also want to verify the original satellite images, so they will soon have assistance from a Japanese satellite to see if the concentration of methane is still so high.

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