Methane emissions from the global oil and gas industry could strongly rebound if companies, policymakers and regulators do not take greater action, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said Monday in its statement on the update of its Methane Tracker.
As methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (CO2) and makes a major contribution to global warming, IEA Executive Director, Fatih Birol, said the task now is for the oil and gas industry is to ensure no resurgence in methane emissions, leaving methane’s historical peak behind in 2019 as the world economy recovers.
Emissions fell by an estimated 10% in 2020 when production was severely curbed in response to the COVID-19 crisis rather than from leaks, the IEA said.
According to Methane Tracker data, oil and gas operations worldwide emitted more than 70 million tons of methane into the atmosphere last year - broadly equivalent to the total energy-related CO2 emissions from the entire European Union.
The IEA warned of the risk that this downward trend would be reversed by an increase in production to fuel a rebound in global economic activity.
Alongside ambitious efforts to decarbonize economies, he said early action on methane emissions is critical in avoiding the worst effects of climate change.
"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," he said.
“There has never been a greater sense of urgency about this issue than there is today," Birol warned.
This year is crucial for climate action due to the COP26 in Glasgow in November, Birol said, and he urged governments to raise ambitions not only on CO2 but also on methane.
"One important avenue, especially for countries with large oil and gas sectors, will be to include commitments on methane in their new or updated pledges in advance of the COP meeting. This is also the moment for companies to put all their weight behind this effort," Birol said.
To address the potential increase in methane emissions, the IEA released a "how-to" guide entitled Driving Down Methane Leaks from the Oil and Gas Industry: A Regulatory Roadmap and Toolkit that governments and regulators can use to bring down methane emissions from oil and gas operations.
The report offers a step-by-step guide for anyone trying to develop or update regulations on methane. Its advice draws on analysis of how more than 50 countries, states, or provinces from the United States to Nigeria, from Iraq to China and Russia have tackled methane emissions from a regulatory perspective.
According to the IEA's analysis, reducing methane emissions is very cost-effective for oil and gas companies. Unlike CO2, there is already a price for methane everywhere in the world, which means the costs of improving operations or making repairs to prevent leaks can often be paid for by the value of the additional gas that is brought to market.
"We believe that industry must act, visibly and quickly. But there is also a strong role for government policies to incentivize early action by companies, push for transparency and improvements in performance, and support innovation in getting results," Birol said.
The IEA also underscored the push by customers in demanding greener gas sources in their purchases. The agency said that customers are starting to look carefully at the emissions profile of different sources of gas when making decisions on what to buy.
“A gas producer without a credible story on methane abatement is also one that is taking commercial risks," it said.
By Nuran Erkul Kaya