Natural gas wells leak methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere as a consequence of the production process. So do cows. But where well leaks are called “fugitive methane emissions,” cow leaks are simply called farts and burps.
Regular Grist readers will remember that we’re really quite interested in this unusual source of methane. It’s silly, but it’s also a big problem. Scientists now think, though, that they’ve hit on a solution: They might simply be able to breed to farts and burps out of cows.
Cows, goats, deer, and sheep naturally produce an abundance of methane — one of the more powerful greenhouse gases — but researchers are hoping that they can all but bring an end to that with selective breeding. Preliminary findings suggest it can be done, according to a team of researchers from over a half-dozen countries. The team found that methane production, which primarily occurs through belching, was consistent in each animal. This finding should allow the team to breed animals that release methane at continually lower levels. If they can make it happen, the environment may very well benefit by curbing a major producer of greenhouse gases.
Try that with a natural gas well. Actually, it should be possible to make those leak less, too, but it won’t involve any cow sex. (Although, to be fair, cattle breeding in this day and age probably doesn’t involve much actual sex, either.)