Oil and gas producers in major oil fields across the United States may be emitting three times as much planet-warming methane gas as official estimates, according to new research published Wednesday, the latest study to suggest that emissions from the fossil fuel sector may be grossly undercounted.

In some parts of New Mexico, more than 9 percent of the natural gas produced was escaping into the atmosphere, researchers said in the study, published in the journal, Nature.

Methane is the main component of natural gas, and when released unburned into the atmosphere it acts as an extremely powerful greenhouse gas. It can warm the planet more than 80 times as much as the same amount of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

The release of methane — often through leaks at well sites or gas processing plants, along pipelines or in other energy facilities — is bad news for global warming, which is already causing higher sea levels, fiercer storms, more intense droughts and a greater loss of biodiversity around the world.

For the study, researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Kairos Aerospace and other labs looked at about one million measurements gathered from aerial surveys over six oil- and gas-producing regions. Using those measurements, along with computer modeling, they found that oil and gas operations in those regions released an estimated 6.2 million tons of methane a year.

That’s close to 3 percent of the total gas produced by those regions a year, or the equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions from the energy used by 20 million homes. In dollar terms, it’s about a billion dollars’ worth of gas.

One takeaway from this and previous studies was “just how concentrated emissions are in a very small fraction of sites,” said Evan D. Sherwin, a researcher at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who led the research. “That’s the silver lining. If we can figure out what’s happening at these small fraction of sites, we’re halfway toward solving the methane problem in oil and gas,” he said.

Scientists are increasingly turning their attention to getting better measurements of human-caused methane emissions, much of which comes from the oil and gas industry. MethaneSAT, a satellite launched this month by the Environmental Defense Fund, is designed to track methane at a global scale. It is one of several satellites that can detect and measure methane from space.

The new study found that methane emission rates varied widely across regions, from 0.75 percent in Pennsylvania to more than 9 percent in parts of New Mexico. One reason for New Mexico’s high rates: Operators there tend to drill for oil, not gas, and will simply release much of the gas that comes up into the atmosphere.

Ritesh Gautam, a scientist at the E.D.F. who wasn’t involved with the study, said it provided important new data. He also said that more comprehensive measurements, including data from MethaneSAT, would soon complement these surveys. “To get a complete picture, these data need to be combined with direct measurement of total methane emissions,” he said.

In a separate analysis released Wednesday, the International Energy Agency said methane emissions from the energy sector remained near record highs in 2023. But it also struck a hopeful tone, saying new steps announced in recent months could soon put those emissions in decline.

For now, global methane emissions remain “far too high” to meet international climate targets, the I.E.A. said. To limit global warming to 1.5 °Celsius, or about 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, above preindustrial times, a key goal of the Paris climate agreement, methane emissions from fossil fuels need to decline by 75 percent this decade, the energy agency said.

I.E.A.’s analysis found that the production and use of fossil fuels generated close to 132 million ton of methane emissions last year, a small rise from the year before. Emissions have remained at similar levels since 2019, when they reached a record. The United States, the world’s largest global producer of oil and gas, was also the largest emitter from oil and gas operations, followed by Russia.

Nearly 200 governments agreed at last year’s global climate talks in Dubai to “substantially” reduce methane emissions by 2030. Major oil and gas companies have also signed onto the Global Methane Pledge to rein in their emissions. The Biden administration is also moving ahead with rules that require oil and gas producers to detect and fix leaks of methane.

All of the pledges made by countries and companies, implemented in full and on time, would cut methane emissions from fossil fuels by 50 percent by 2030, the I.E.A.’s new analysis found. However, the I.E.A. noted, most pledges were not yet backed by concrete plans.

“I am encouraged by the momentum we’ve seen in recent months, which our analysis shows could make an enormous and immediate difference in the world’s fight against climate change,” Fatih Birol, the I.E.A. executive director, said in a statement. “Now, we must focus on transforming commitments into action, while continuing to aim higher.”


Source link

Credit: NYTimes.com

Leave a Reply