METHANE is invisible to the naked eye and does not make for good television. So when about 100,000 tonnes billowed out of a natural-gas system in Aliso Canyon, Los Angeles, over 112 days last winter (pictured in infra-red above), it drew relatively little media attention—even though it forced the evacuation of thousands of homes and the plume was big enough to be detectable from space. Compare that with coverage of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, which was the top item of news for weeks in America, much of it focused on the environmental impact on the Gulf coast.

Unsurprisingly, many oil and gas companies would prefer methane leaks to remain out of the public eye, even though their industry now surpasses cow burps as a source of emissions (see chart). Methane is the predominant constituent of natural gas, a fuel that energy companies are embracing over oil and coal as a “bridge” to a post-carbon future and...Continue reading