Global methane emissions from the energy sector are about 70% greater than what national governments have officially reported, according to analysis out this week from watchdog, the International Energy Agency.
The IEA has already come out in support of efforts to cut methane emissions, a more potent but shorter-lasting greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and the group used this latest data to reinforce its case.
Methane is responsible for around 30% of the rise in global temperatures since the Industrial Revolution, and quick and sustained emission reductions would have a rapid effect on limiting global warming, the IEA believes.
Methane emissions from the energy sector grew by just under 5% last year. The increase did not return these emissions 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, the IEA said in its report.
The energy sector accounts for around 40% of methane emissions from human activity, including out-of-commission oil and gas machinery. Livestock and other sources also contribute.
“ The methane promise would have the same effect on global warming by 2050 as shifting the entire transportation sector to net zero CO2 emissions.”
— International Energy Agency
Methane can also be reused as an energy source under certain conditions. 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 meters of natural gas. That is equivalent to all the gas used in Europe’s power sector that year, a figure seen as more than enough to ease current market tightness, the IEA suggested. Read the latest on energy market trading.
Relevant to Russian conflict, price surge
Natural gas prices
have roughly tripled in the post-COVID recovery and as Russian-Ukraine tensions raised uncertainty about Russian supplies — Russia pipes about 40% of the natural gas that the rest of Europe relies on. Those high prices help make the case to cut emissions while the industry is operating at a profit advantage, the argument goes.
“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 methane promise would have the same effect on global warming by 2050 as shifting the entire transportation sector to net zero CO2 emissions, the IEA says.
Late last year, as part of a major U.N.-led climate change conference, at least 110 countries made a pledge to cut methane emissions from human activities — including agriculture, the energy sector and other sources — 30% by 2030.
Yet, of the five countries with the largest methane emissions from their energy sectors — China, Russia, the U.S., Iran and India — only the U.S. signed on.
“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,” U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry said in response to the IEA’s findings.
Trade group the American Petroleum Institute said at the time of the November pledge that it backed the efforts, at least broadly. API has said methane emissions rates in the largest producing U.S. regions have declined 70% in the past decade, even as America produces “more affordable, reliable and cleaner natural gas.”
Data improvement, with key voids
The IEA, meanwhhile, has expanded its country-by-country Global Methane Tracker to include emissions from coal mines and bioenergy for the first time, in addition to continued coverage of oil and natural gas operations. It says the tracker details where policies might have the greatest impact.
Satellites have greatly increased the world’s knowledge of emission sources, and the tracker incorporates the latest readings from satellites and other science-based measurement campaigns. In 2021, 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, the report said.
Still, even that advancement excludes equatorial regions, offshore operations, and northern areas such as the main Russian oil and gas producing areas.