Scientists and governments alike have been greatly underestimating emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas methane from oil and gas operations, according to new research published Wednesday, suggesting both a threat and also an opportunity to curb leaks of the hard-hitting molecule.

The contention emerges in a new study in the influential journal Nature, which draws on samples of ancient air extracted from within the Greenland ice sheet to measure levels of atmospheric methane before humans started burning fossil fuels.

Surprisingly, these air pockets, dating back as far as the 18th century, contained very little of the oldest type of methane — multimillion-year-old fossil methane gas, which originates from deep within the crust of the Earth. This suggests that in its natural state, the planet just doesn’t belch out much fossil methane from geological sources, such as undersea seeps and towering mud volcanoes.



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