Meathane leakage can occur during production, transportation and distribution of oil and gas
Methane update reveals that reduced demand for oil and gas during the pandemic’s shutdown of industry and travel saw methane emissions drop 10 per cent in 2020
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has urged the oil and gas sector to step up efforts to tackle methane emissions as it gears up for a recovery that could see production return to pre-pandemic levels.
Figures published this morning reveal the oil and gas sector emitted 70 million tonnes of methane emissions in 2020, a figure that is broadly equivalent to the amount of energy-related CO2 emissions produced by the European Union but represents a 10 per cent drop from 2019 levels.
Leading oil majors have taken steps to reduce methane emissions in recent years, with the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative group of oil and gas giants reporting late last year that they had collectively cut methane emissions 22 per cent since 2017. Companies have also touted sizeable new investment programmes to detect and fix methane leaks. However, the new IEA analysis indicates that a large part of the fall in emissions recorded in 2020 was simply a result of oil and gas firms producing less as they reduced their output in response to the pandemic.
As such IEA executive director Dr Fatih Birol has called on the oil and gas sector to step up efforts to prevent emissions from rising again, thus ensuring 2019 becomes the all-time peak for the sector’s methane emissions.
“The task now for the oil and gas industry is to make sure that there is no resurgence in methane emissions, even as the world recovers,and that 2019 becomes their historic peak,” Dr Birol said. “There is no good reason to allow these harmful leaks to continue, and there is every reason for responsible operators to ensure that they are addressed.”
Oil and gas companies have a financial incentive to reduce their methane emissions, the IEA’s update emphasises, given the gas is a key component in the production of natural gas and leakage results in less of the fossil fuel being brought to market.
IEA figures published today suggest that in 2020 the oil and gas industry was responsible for roughly 12 per cent of global emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas that is much more potent than carbon dioxide and as such is a major contributor to global warming. Human activity is responsible for roughly 60 per cent of the 570 million tonnes of global methane emissions produced on average every year, with the energy sector following closely behind agriculture as the largest source of anthropogenic emissions, according to the update.
But despite technical solutions to fix methane leaks at production sites and along distribution pipelines being proven, widely available, and cost-effective, the oil and gas sector still faces a significant methane leakage problem.
As such Birol emphasised that governments had a role to play in pushing oil and gas companies to move faster to reduce their methane leakage. “We believe that industry must act visibly and quickly,” he said. “But there is also a strong role for government policies; to incentivise early action by companies, push for transparency and improvements in performance, and support innovation in getting results.”
He urged political and business leaders to introduce new targets for methane emissions, alongside existing carbon goals, in the run up to the vital COP26 climate conference, which is set to be co-hosted by the UK this autumn in Glasgow.
“In this crucial year for climate action leading up to COP26 in Glasgow in November, this is the moment for governments to raise ambitions not only on CO2 but also on methane,” Birol said.
The IEA’s Paris-aligned ‘sustainable development scenario’ calculates global methane emissions must drop by 70 per cent by the end of the decade on if the world is to meet its climate goals.