methane flaring

Fossil fuel sector methane emissions ‘far too high and not falling fast enough’

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The oil and gas sector is failing to cut climate-change-exacerbating methane emissions despite pledges to do so, a report has found.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) tracks global methane emissions and found that the energy industry was responsible for 135 million tonnes of methane released into the atmosphere in 2022, only slightly below the record highs seen in 2019.

Today, the energy sector accounts for around 40 per cent of total methane emissions attributable to human activity, second only to agriculture.

Methane is responsible for around 30 per cent of the rise in global temperatures since the Industrial Revolution and has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere.

But it also dissipates at a much faster than carbon dioxide, only lasting an average of 12 years in the atmosphere compared to carbon dioxide, which can linger for centuries.

Therefore, action taken by the fossil fuel sector to cut emissions could have a significant impact on climate change in the near term.

The IEA said that methane emissions from oil and gas alone could be reduced by 75 per cent with existing technologies which highlights “a lack of industry action” on an issue that can be cheap to address.

Less than 3 per cent of the income accrued by oil and gas companies worldwide last year would be required to make the $100bn (£83bn) investment in technologies needed to achieve this reduction.

“Our new Global Methane Tracker shows that some progress is being made but that emissions are still far too high and not falling fast enough – especially as methane cuts are among the cheapest options to limit near-term global warming. There is just no excuse,” said IEA executive director Fatih Birol.

“The Nord Stream pipeline explosion last year released a huge amount of methane into the atmosphere. But normal oil and gas operations around the world release the same amount of methane as the Nord Stream explosion every single day.”

Stopping all non-emergency flaring and venting of methane is the most impactful measure countries can take to rein in emissions, the IEA said.

Around 260 billion cubic metres (bcm) of methane is currently lost to the atmosphere each year from oil and gas operations. Three-quarters of this could be retained and brought to market using “tried and tested policies and technologies”.

The captured methane would amount to more than the European Union’s total annual gas imports from Russia prior to the invasion of Ukraine. 

Satellites are providing an ever-clearer picture of methane emissions and greatly increasing the world’s knowledge of emission sources. For example, the nonprofit group Carbon Mapper began using a Nasa satellite late last year to discover the landfill sites responsible for emitting the most methane.

In 2022 alone, more than 500 super-emitting events were detected by satellites from oil and gas operations and a further 100 were seen at coal mines.

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