Methane is an extremely potent climate pollutant. In the short term, it’s much more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2), which is the most common greenhouse gas (GHG).
Methane has about 83 times more effect on global warming over 20 years than CO2, and about 30 times more effect over a century. Energy production is the third-largest source of methane, behind agriculture and wetlands, with emissions from oil and gas works accounting for 14% of total global methane emissions.
Oil- and gas-related methane emissions come from a variety of sources, including upstream exploration and production, gas gathering, storage and pipelines. Certain pieces of equipment, including pneumatic controllers and valves, tend to be particularly leaky. Incomplete gas flaring and venting — planned releases of gas during well completions or maintenance — also contribute emissions.
Reducing oil and gas production is crucial to meet climate goals
The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated in 2021 that limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) would require stopping new oil and gas exploration and significantly decreasing production and consumption through 2050, starting this decade.
Rapidly reducing oil and gas production is crucial for lowering both CO2 and methane emissions. Minimizing the methane emissions from oil and gas production is also essential, but this must not allow countries to lock in a prolonged production of fossil fuels.
In 2022, methane (CH4) emissions from oil and gas production totaled 82.3 million tonnes (MtCH4). To achieve a 1.5 degrees C-aligned pathway, these must be slashed to 18 MtCH4 by 2030 through reductions in oil and gas production and other actions. Key international coalitions are now focused on ending routine flaring and venting by 2030 and identifying and fixing methane leaks, all of which could drastically reduce emissions.
Tackling fugitive emissions from existing infrastructure will drive important GHG reductions quickly
For many years, methane emissions from oil and gas were underestimated. With better monitoring technology — including ground-based monitoring, drone, airplane and satellite-based surveys — we now know that "bottom-up" estimates derived from average emissions factors and engineering-based estimates are far too low. There is growing pressure on companies to employ continuous monitoring; implement better leak detection and repair (LDAR); improve monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) practices; and set clear targets to reduce methane emissions. Investors and shareholders are pushing for more progress.
Some independent third parties have begun launching satellites to monitor methane emissions from oil and gas operations. While this is a welcome development, it must be supplemented by the continuous data provided by LDAR systems at individual fields.