Robert Hart, Forbes Business:
Methane leaks from the energy sector are much higher than what national governments claim, the International Energy Agency said Wednesday, adding the industry could slash emissions of the highly polluting greenhouse gas—widely recognized as a crucial element in tackling the climate crisis—at zero cost due to the offset from soaring gas prices.
Methane emissions in the energy sector are underreported by 70%, the IEA said. AFP /AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
National governments have underreported methane emissions from the energy sector by an “alarming” 70%, according to the IEA’s latest methane report, which uses satellite tracking and other data to monitor emissions.
The energy sector—primarily oil, gas and coal—is responsible for around 40% of methane emissions from human activity, the agency said, and emissions grew around 5% last year.
While the IEA noted emissions are below 2019 levels—possibly indicating efforts to limit emissions are already starting to pay off—it said the volume of gas leaked was equivalent to the amount Europe burns for power in a year.
If the escaping gas had been captured, current soaring gas prices and shortages could have been avoided, the agency said.
There are few reasons for countries to delay fixing the issue, the agency’s executive director Fatih Birol said, noting that soaring gas prices and the wide availability of technology to plug leaks means nearly all of the emissions “could be avoided at no net cost.”
The solutions are “even profitable in many cases,” the report said.
The IEA detected large methane leaks from oil and gas operations by satellite in 15 countries in 2021. It observed “significant emissions from the Permian basin in Texas” and “very large leaks” in parts of Central Asia, notably Turkmenistan, which was responsible for a third of the large emissions events seen by satellites in 2021. Around 6% of the IEA’s estimate of methane emissions from oil and gas operations in 2021 were from ultra-emitting events seen by satellites.
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas and responsible for around 30% of the rise in global temperature since the Industrial Revolution, according to the IEA. Experts have identified it as a key target for meeting climate goals due to its powerful warming effect and short-lived nature—it dissipates much faster than carbon dioxide—which means emissions cuts could have a rapid effect on limiting warming. China, India, the U.S., Russia and Brazil are the world’s five largest emitters, considering all sources, accounting for around half the world’s methane emissions. Of these, only Brazil is not in the top five energy-related methane emitters, having been replaced by Iran. Only the U.S. and Brazil are part of the Global Methane Pledge, an initiative launched by the U.S and the European Union at the COP26 conference last year. More than 110 participating countries committed to reducing global methane emissions from human activity by at least 30% compared with 2020 levels by 2030.
“The International Energy Agency has been a longstanding champion of stronger action to cut methane emissions,” Birol said. “A vital part of those efforts is transparency on the size and location of the emissions, which is why the massive underreporting revealed by our Global Methane Tracker is so alarming.”
Oil prices soared to nearly $100 a barrel on Tuesday after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops into eastern Ukraine, the highest in more than seven years. Russia warned European gas prices will more than double after Germany halted the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine.