How powerful is methane?
It has a Global Warming Potential of over 80 times that of carbon dioxide (CO2) over 20 years. Anthropogenic methane is responsible for at least a quarter of today’s global warming. If the world is to achieve a 1.5°C (or even a 2°C) global temperature target and to slow the rate of warming to avoid the worst impacts over the next few decades, dramatic reductions in methane emissions must be achieved by 2030.
Methane emissions result from natural sources like wetlands and manmade sources such as the agricultural, fossil fuel, and waste sectors. The fossil fuel industry is responsible for one-third of anthropogenic methane emissions.
In 2021 alone, the global oil and gas industry wasted $19 billion of natural gas due to methane emissions. As a result of these emissions, the climate impact of the oil and gas industry is greater than the combined impact of every gas-powered passenger vehicle on the planet.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that global methane emissions from the oil and gas industry reached almost 82 million metric tonnes in 2019. Increasing attention to methane emissions in the oil and gas industry risks undermining the case for increasing the role of gas as a lower-carbon transition fuel.
However, the oil and gas industry is also the sector with the greatest potential for emissions reduction. The IEA estimates that it is technically possible to reduce these by roughly 75 per cent – and by over 40 per cent just by implementing approaches that have no net costs, taking into account the value of the gas saved. Minimizing methane emissions from upstream oil and gas production was identified as one of five key global greenhouse gas mitigation opportunities, noting that low-cost reductions in this area could account for nearly 15 per cent (over 0.5 Gt CO2-eq) of the total greenhouse gas reductions needed by 2020 to keep the world on a 2-degree path.
Reducing methane emissions from oil and gas production would slow the rate of global warming in the short term in a cost-effective and secure manner as efforts continue to decarbonize the energy system.”
We cannot meet the Paris Agreement and avoid exceeding 1.5 °C of warming without achieving deep reductions in methane emissions from the global oil and gas industry. Luckily, the industry is taking action..
The relatively short atmospheric lifetime of methane combined with its strong warming potential means that targeted strategies to reduce emissions can provide climate and health benefits within a few decades. The oil and gas industry has the potential to reduce methane emissions by up to 70 MMT of methane – equivalent to the climate impact of approximately 6 Gigatonnes CO2e.
There are many cost-effective and proven solutions for keeping methane in the system and out of the atmosphere. Fixes are often as easy as tightening loose valves and repairing leaky equipment. Leak detection and repair (LDAR) programmes that use infrared cameras, for example, to detect methane emissions are among the most effective strategies to consider. Other times, sites may need changes to engineering design to prevent recurring, intermittent issues such as emergency venting. There are many options for companies to reduce vented emissions, such as electrifying sites or capturing vented gas for fuel use. Critically, companies should not just address active leaks but also consider the root causes of emissions to identify and address potential sources of high emissions in the future.
Advancements in remote-sensing technologies allow operators to pinpoint emissions faster and gather useful data to analyse root causes for implementing prevention measures. Continuous monitors that track methane emissions levels can also alert operators to leaks or super-emitter events instantly, reducing the time a source is emitting and improving operational efficiencies. Satellite technology offers the potential of further characterizing emissions on a global scale, providing information for oil and gas producing regions with little to no data for countries, companies, and NGOs to verify progress on emissions reductions worldwide.
Methane is the primary component of natural gas, so methane emissions represent a wasted product that could otherwise have been sold. As a result, many methane mitigation activities save more money than the upfront cost, leading to net savings.