Why Good Data Is Crucial To Evaluate Under-the-Radar Methane Emissions Around the World
The Environmental Defense Fund's report called "Hitting the Mark" is a roadmap for the oil and gas industry to obtain and report good data on methane emissions. But it also laments that methane emissions data are outdated, inaccurate, and unreliable.
After 10 years, it’s now accepted by most oil and gas companies that methane emissions are bad news. The emissions are mainly leakage of natural gas from wells, from pipelines, and from oil and gas facilities such as gas processing plants.
Most individual leaks are very small, but a few big ones can really distort the picture. And tens of thousands of small ones in wells and pipeline miles add up. Pneumatics, which are devices that contain gas under pressure, are a big contributor to leakage.
Methane emissions are bad news because they are wasted natural gas that could be sold for $3 or $4 per thousand cubic feet.
Just as serious, maybe more serious, is that methane is a greenhouse gas (GHG) that is worse than carbon dioxide (CO2) in its warming and damaging effect: 21–81 times worse depending on the duration of the comparison.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) in its new 2021 Technology Report says that agriculture globally contributes about a fourth of methane emissions. The energy sector is a close second—including emissions from oil and gas, coal and biofuels.
The oil and gas part is responsible for approximately 2.1 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions per year, which amounts to 5% of total global GHG emissions. The spotlight points directly at oil and gas companies.
The IEA project that methane emissions will need to fall by 70% from 2020 levels to satisfy their internal sustainable development scenario goal to meet the Paris Agreement.
There are commercial aspects of this too. First, if the leaks could be stopped, the gas could be sold to help the bottom line. Second, consumers are starting to ask gas producers how good their record is on abating methane emissions before they agree to buy their gas.
In the US, methane emissions from the energy sector have been falling in the period 1990–2018. This is remarkable because, during this period, natural gas production in the US increased by 60%. And most of the increase has occurred since 2005, when shale-gas came onstream. The “facilities” that provide data to the EPA include oil and gas basins, oil and gas companies, gas plants, and refineries, so methane leaks or releases may have fallen in a variety of facilities.
The Importance of Good Data
The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has pushed hard on this subject as entities such as BP and Shell have committed to reduce methane emissions and report the data. It is involved, too, with the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership and the UN Environment Program to measure and report methane better.
EDF’s report called "Hitting the Mark" is a roadmap for the oil and gas industry to obtain and report good data on methane emissions. But, it also laments that methane emissions data are outdated, inaccurate, and unreliable. Some companies use engineering calculations from the 1970s. This must be replaced by direct measurement by way of satellite sensors, airplane flyovers, and ground-based detectors.