Study: Methane emissions may be five times higher than previously thought

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Thursday, September 29, 2022

Global emissions of methane from existing gas infrastructure may be up to five times higher than had been believed, a new study has found. Existing measures to burn off the powerful greenhouse gas — which is dozens of times more potent than carbon dioxide — allow far more to slip by than had been believed, according to the paper published on Thursday in Science. A bipartisan bill put forth on Wednesday by Reps. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.) and Sean Casten (D-Ill.) seeks to tackle the problem. The Methane Emissions Mitigation Research and Development Act “focuses our best and brightest at the Department of Energy on methane emissions, one of the most potent greenhouse gasses,” Meijer said in a statement.  “It also provides our local governments and private industries with the necessary tools to mitigate methane emissions and leaks,” he added. Among these tools are the suite of leak detection and repair (LDAR) technologies, which include the satellite tools that the Science team used to quantify the imperfect nature of venting and flaring, common features of natural gas drilling. At times or in areas where there isn’t sufficient pipeline or storage for the quantities of natural gas being produced — sometimes as a byproduct of more lucrative oil — drilling operators “flare,” or burn off, the methane. It had long been believed that flaring converts all the methane into water vapor and relatively inert carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that, while it still heats the climate, is far less potent. But this is an “overly optimistic view” of flaring, which leaves far more methane behind than had been believed, according to a companion essay in Science. In fact, studies of three major natural gas basins — the Eagle Ford and Permian in Texas, and the Bakken of North Dakota — found that only 91 percent of the methane is consumed. That’s in part because flares are often malfunctioning or simply unlit — allowing raw methane to vent into the atmosphere. If these flares operated properly at even 98 percent efficiency, they would cut emissions enough to be the equivalent of removing nearly 3 million cars from the road, the Science team found. Enough gas was flared in 2021 to make up about two-thirds of current EU demand — but most oil and gas producers don’t directly check or report how efficiently that gas was burned off. Complete combustion of natural gas at flare sites would also spare nearby communities from potentially toxic impacts. About half a million people live within three miles of flare sites in these three basins — which puts them at direct risk from the potentially toxic organic compounds released if those flares malfunction. Such failures to properly combust waste gas could “expose front-line communities to a cocktail of co-pollutants that present risks of acute and/or chronic health impacts,” the team wrote in a statement. These leaks are a major problem for both U.S. emission goals and for the attempt of gas producers to brand themselves as a low-carbon bridge fuel — or a feedstock for new-model fuels like blue hydrogen, a still largely frontier product fabricated from gas from which the carbon has been captured and stored. The Science study builds on a 2021 paper in Environmental Research Letters that found that about 60 percent of total methane emissions from the Permian Basin — a region that produces about 18 percent of U.S. natural gas — came from 1,000 “super emitter” wells. And the International Energy Agency in 2020 estimated global flaring efficiency at about 92 percent — approximately what the Science team just confirmed for the United States. The solution, according to the Science team, is similar to the one Casten and Meijer are asking for: better technology. “Together, satellites, surface sensors, and models can provide more-accurate assessments of the role that improved flaring efficiency plays in overall O&G emissions and future mitigation efforts,” the researchers wrote in the companion essay. But they cautioned that fixing the problem would require more than simply new technology, but would also require “further improvements in monitoring, regulations, and industry practices.” The time for taking action on this is now, Casten wrote in a statement. “2021 saw the highest annual growth rate for methane emissions to date,” he said. “This problem is not slowing down and will only increase without action. 

Global emissions of methane from existing gas infrastructure may be up to five times higher than had been believed, a new study has found. Existing measures to burn off the powerful greenhouse gas — which is dozens of times more potent than carbon dioxide — allow far more to slip by than had been believed,...

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COP27: Global CO2 emissions are rising — and so are the stakes

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt — Week two at COP27 has begun. Last week closed with the announcement of the United States’ ambitious plan to track and cut methane emissions — a greenhouse gas that’s over 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the near term — timed with a visit by President Biden. (Catch up on last…

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt — Week two at COP27 has begun. Last week closed with the announcement of the United States’ ambitious plan to track and cut methane emissions — a greenhouse gas that’s over 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the near term — timed with a visit by President Biden. (Catch up on last week’s news with our first, second and third dispatches from the U.N. climate conference.) This week opened with Gender and Water Day. Not on track To hit midcentury emissions targets, emissions should by now be bending downward. Yet Friday brought news that global emissions, after a Covid-induced dip, are once again heading up, on track to hit another record high this year. The news highlighted the urgency of making further progress on climate strategy by the end of these talks. Tackling methane emissions On Friday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released an ambitious plan to improve the tracking of methane emissions by the oil and gas industry to press for further reductions. The plan includes requiring companies to fix methane leaks, targeting emissions from super-emitters and slashing emissions from idle wells. “Pinpointing methane leaks and taking swift action to repair them at oil and gas operations and landfills is the best chance we have to put a down payment on a safer climate future,” said Deborah Gordon, senior principal of the Oil and Gas Solutions Initiative at RMI. The U.N. also announced a new satellite-based system to detect methane emissions, the Methane Alert and Response System. MARS will use state-of-the-art satellite data to identify large methane hot spots, and the U.N. Environment Programme will then notify governments and companies about the emissions so that the responsible entities can take appropriate action. 🌍 For more, see RMI’s take on key methane announcements at COP27. Biden makes a COP stop In addition to apologizing for the U.S. pulling out of the Paris Agreement, President Biden highlighted the Inflation Reduction Act’s potential to “help make the transition to a low-carbon future more affordable for everyone.” He also reiterated a 2021 pledge to provide $11.4 billion annually by 2024 to help developing countries transition to renewables. However, he did not mention climate reparations, disappointing some who stress the importance of compensation to developing countries for loss and damage caused by climate disasters. From COP, Biden headed to Bali, Indonesia for the G20 summit, where he met today with Chinese leader Xi Jinping for their first in-person encounter since Biden took office. 🌴 Stay tuned. At the G20 Summit in Bali this week, announcements of major steps to cut emissions are rumored. Decarbonizing shipping A consortium of 10 leading shipping and green-hydrogen organizations signed a historic joint statement committing to the rapid deployment of green-hydrogen-based fuels. Signatories agreed to work together to achieve commercially viable zero-emissions vessels operating on the deep seas by 2030, to scale up production of green hydrogen to 5.5 million tons per year by 2030 for use in shipping, and to fully decarbonize the shipping sector by 2050 or sooner. This is the first public commitment connecting the shipping sector to leading producers of the low-carbon fuel needed to decarbonize it. “This is getting all the key actors along the value chain aligned along the same goals,” said Nigel Topping, U.N. high-level champion for COP26. “This alignment of major actors is what all future COPs will be about.” 🟢 For more, check out the Green Hydrogen Catapult’s work to drive a massive green hydrogen scale-up by 2026. Wealthy countries stepping up While the rich countries continue to wrestle over payments for loss and damage, other countries are stepping up their climate commitments. India released its long-term strategy to achieve net zero by 2070 (the goal it set at COP26 last year) and argued for a global phase-down of all fossil fuels, not just coal.Mexico announced a new target to reduce emissions by 35% by 2030, up from its previous target of 22%.Brazil, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo announced an alliance to coordinate on the sustainable management and restoration of tropical forests. Where are the women? Today was Gender Day (and Water Day) at COP27. Despite a day focused on gender, many feel that women’s voices remain underrepresented. The U.N. estimates that 80% of people displaced by climate change are women and girls, but they make up only 30% of global and national climate decision-makers. This is apparent at COP27. While there are a handful of women at the side events and on national delegations, of the 110 official delegates — heads of state and governments — only 11 are women. On the bright side, women’s participation at COPs has been growing, from 30% of national delegations in 2009 to 38% in 2021, according to the Women’s Environment and Development Organization. But on the not-so-bright side, at that rate, COP national delegations won’t reach gender parity until 2040. As Catherine McKenna and Amy Myers Jaffe write in Scientific American, “We need traditional knowledge and different visions of sustainable development and community engagement rather than business as usual at the center of climate action deliberations. Women shouldn’t have to keep yelling from the bleachers.”

UN: Nord Stream pipeline rupture largest single release of methane recorded

The ruptures on the Nord Stream pipelines in recent days have produced likely the largest single release of methane into the atmosphere ever recorded, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. Manfredi Caltagirone, the leader of the program’s International Methane Emissions Observatory, told Reuters on Friday that an analysis of satellite imagery detected a large...

The ruptures on the Nord Stream pipelines in recent days have produced likely the largest single release of methane into the atmosphere ever recorded, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.  Manfredi Caltagirone, the leader of the program’s International Methane Emissions Observatory, told Reuters on Friday that an analysis of satellite imagery detected a large amount of highly concentrated methane coming from the pipelines.  “This is really bad, most likely the largest emission event ever detected," Caltagirone said. “This is not helpful in a moment when we absolutely need to reduce emissions.”  Multiple leaks have occurred in the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines, which carry natural gas from Russia to Germany to supply Europe. Some European leaders have said they believe the leaks resulted from intentional sabotage by Russia, who is trying to increase economic pressure on Europe as it continues to support Ukraine against the full-scale Russian invasion.  President Biden reportedly called the leaks a “deliberate act of sabotage,” and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said they were likely an “act by Russia.”  Reuters reported that researchers estimated the leak rate from one of the four breaches was 22,920 kilograms per hour, about equal to burning 630,000 pounds of coal every hour.  Methane has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years in the atmosphere, although carbon dioxide has a longer lasting effect, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.  Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused Western countries of sabotaging the pipelines that run under the Baltic Sea, claims the West has rejected.

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