methane flaring from oil fossil fuel facility climate change

Energy sector methane emissions significantly underreported, study finds

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Global methane emissions from the energy sector are about 70 per cent greater than the amount national governments have officially reported, an analysis from the International Energy Agency (IEA) has found.

The report calls for enhanced monitoring efforts and stronger policy action to drive down emissions of the greenhouse gas which is roughly 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, albeit with a shorter lifespan for its effects.

Methane is responsible for around 30 per cent of the rise in global temperatures since the Industrial Revolution, and quick and sustained emission reductions are key to limiting near-term warming and improving air quality.

The energy sector accounts for around 40 per cent of methane emissions from human activity and these emissions grew by just under 5 per cent last year. However, this did not bring them back to their 2019 levels and slightly lagged the rise in overall energy use, indicating that some efforts to limit emissions may already be paying off.

“At today’s elevated natural gas prices, nearly all of the methane emissions from oil and gas operations worldwide could be avoided at no net cost,” said IEA executive director Fatih Birol.

“The IEA has been a longstanding champion of stronger action to cut methane emissions. A vital part of those efforts is transparency on the size and location of the emissions, which is why the massive underreporting revealed by our Global Methane Tracker is so alarming.”

Researchers have increasingly been using satellite imagery to quantify the volume of methane emissions produced during fossil-fuel extraction activities.

Last year, significant emissions were confirmed in Texas and parts of Central Asia, with Turkmenistan alone responsible for one-third of large emissions events seen by satellites in 2021. Relatively few major leaks were detected for the major onshore oil and gas producers in the Middle East.

While measured data continues to improve, the coverage provided by satellites is still far from complete as existing satellites do not provide measurements over equatorial regions, offshore operations, or northern areas such as the main Russian oil and gas producing areas.

It is thought that the Siberian tundra, for example, has been outputting massive amounts of methane as the permafrost melts and releases the trapped gas underneath.

The IEA report found that if all methane leaks from fossil fuel operations in 2021 had been captured and sold, then natural gas markets would have been supplied with an additional 180 billion cubic metres of natural gas – equivalent to all the gas used in Europe’s power sector and more than enough to ease today’s market tightness.

The intensity of methane emissions from fossil fuel operations range widely from country to country: the best performing countries and companies are over 100 times better than the worst.

Global methane emissions from oil and gas operations would fall by more than 90 per cent if all producing countries matched Norway’s emissions intensity, the lowest worldwide.

European Commission executive vice-president Frans Timmermans said: “Methane is the second-biggest contributor to global warming. Rapidly cutting methane emissions is therefore a key part of our efforts to tackle the climate crisis.

“We need more precise data on actual methane emissions. By measuring, reporting and verifying, we will know where emissions cuts are most urgent.”

US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry said: “Cutting methane pollution is the fastest way to mitigate climate change and cutting wasteful venting, leaking and flaring from oil and gas systems is the fastest way to cut methane.”

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