A recent report by The New York Times (www.nytimes.com) shows an infrared camera photo of a surprisingly large natural gas well leak that was invisible to the naked eye. (Click here to view photos.) Upon identifying the leak, workers sealed it, and infrared monitoring equipment is now being touted as an effective aid for oil and natural gas companies to identify undetected methane emissions.

According to the Times, scientists say methane accounts for as much as a third of the human contribution to global warming. Likewise, the Times reports that researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggest that acting quickly to stanch the loss of methane could substantially cut global warming in the short run, even as countries work to reduce the more dominant greenhouse emission, carbon dioxide.

Unlike carbon dioxide, which can remain in the atmosphere a century or more once released, the Times reports that methane persists in the air for about 10 years. The Times reports that Methane is also a valuable target because while it is far rarer and more fleeting than carbon dioxide, ton for ton, it traps 25 times as much heat, researchers say.

The use of infrared cameras is expanding as word spreads of the payoff in saved gas, said Ben Shepperd, executive vice president of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association (www.pbpa.info), which represents 1,200 companies in the oil and gas business around West Texas, according to the Times report.

To read the full New York Times report on this story, click here.