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 second-largest source of methane, with emissions from oil and gas works accounting for 22% 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 equipment, including pneumatic controllers and valves, tends 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 2021, methane emissions from oil and gas production totaled 79 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.

Data Insights

What targets are most important to reach in the future?

Systems Change Lab has identified 2 targets to track progress. Click a chart to explore the data.

What factors may enable and prevent change?

Systems Change Lab has identified 7 factors of change that may catalyze or impede progress. Click a chart to explore the data.

Progress toward targets

Systems Change Lab has identified 2 targets target to track progress. Explore the data below.

Methane emissions from oil and gas

The International Energy Agency indicates global methane emissions from oil and gas must be reduced to 18 Mt by 2030, requiring these increasing emissions to peak and decrease quickly from 2021 levels.

Methane emissions from oil and gas increased from 66 million tonnes (Mt) in 2000 to 82.5 Mt in 2021 (with a brief drop to 80 Mt in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic).

The top methane emitters in 2021 included Russia (14 Mt), the United States (14 Mt), and Iran (6 Mt). Norway, one of the top producers of oil and gas, boasted the lowest methane emissions from oil and gas operations at less than half a million tonnes.

To achieve a 1.5 degrees C-aligned future, the International Energy Agency indicates global methane emissions from oil and gas must be reduced to 18 Mt by 2030. This will require concerted efforts to reduce production and consumption of oil and gas and lower methane intensity in the oil and gas that is produced.

Methane emissions from oil and gas must peak and decrease quickly to hit the 2030 target of 18 Mt.

Volume of fossil gas flared

The volume of fossil gas flared must be reduced by about 90% to 14 bcm by 2030 to achieve a 1.5 degrees C pathway. This volume had increased globally from 104 billion cubic meters in 1996 to about 153 bcm in 2021.

Much of the methane emissions from fossil gas are emitted through incomplete flaring (burning off unwanted fossil gas) or venting (directly releasing fossil gas into the atmosphere). Often, companies employ these practices to get rid of so-called “associated gas” when drilling for oil, for a variety of reasons: because it is uneconomic to transport, because the producer does not have the right to sell the gas, or to avoid a pressure build-up that could cause an explosion.

However, flaring contributes both CO2 and methane to the atmosphere. Because combustion in the flaring process is incomplete (global combustion efficiency is about 92%), some methane is emitted directly, in high concentrations.

The volume of fossil gas flared globally increased from 104 billion cubic meters (bcm) in 1996 to about 153 bcm in 2021. Ten major gas-producing countries accounted for 75% of gas flaring in 2021 (in descending order of volume): Russia, Iraq, Iran, the United States, Venezuela, Algeria, Nigeria, Mexico, Libya and China.

To achieve a 1.5 degrees C pathway, the volume of fossil gas flared must be reduced by about 90% to 14 bcm by 2030. The volume of natural gas flared should peak immediately and begin decreasing significantly to meet the 14 bcm target by 2030.

Enablers and barriers

We monitor momentum by tracking a set of 7 factors factor that can enable or prevent progress. Explore the data and learn about key actions driving progress.

Percent of oil and gas sites with leak detection systems

Innovation
One of the most important solutions to reduce methane emissions is implementing a leak detection and repair regime at an individual oil and/or gas production site because methane can escape from equipment, such as pneumatic controllers, valves and storage tanks.

One of the most important solutions to reduce methane emissions is implementing a leak detection and repair (LDAR) regime at an individual oil and/or gas production site. Methane can escape from equipment, such as pneumatic controllers, valves and storage tanks. A LDAR regime typically consists of periodic monitoring of the extraction, storage and processing equipment at the site and a plan to address the leaks.

Monitoring often includes the use of optical gas imaging and periodic inspections, while the method of repair may vary depending on the source of the leak. There is currently no globally available data on the percentage of oil and gas sites with LDAR regimes. Collecting this information would require coordination with many individual producers around the world, but it would provide accountability for polluters and help policymakers better understand where and how to reduce fugitive methane from oil and gas production.

Percent of gas pipelines with leak detection systems

Innovation
Methane leaks come not only from upstream oil and gas extraction and processing, but also from the more than 1,600 gas pipelines transporting gas to market. Identifying, preventing and repairing these leaks is key to reducing methane emissions.

Studies have shown that methane leaks come not only from upstream oil and gas extraction and processing, but also from the more than 1,600 gas pipelines transporting gas to market. Identifying, preventing and repairing these leaks is key to reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.

A leak detection and repair regime typically consists of periodic monitoring of the extraction, storage and processing equipment at a site and a plan to address the leaks. Monitoring often includes the use of optical gas imaging and periodic inspections, while the method of repair may vary depending on the source of the leak.

Monitoring pipelines that run over long distances is necessarily different than monitoring equipment at an upstream extraction or processing site. Various companies offer specialized equipment to monitor pipelines, and the processes for repair are well established.

There is currently no globally available data on the percentage of gas pipelines with LDAR regimes. Collecting this information would require coordination with individual pipeline owners around the world, but it would provide accountability for polluters and help policymakers better understand where and how to reduce fugitive methane from the transportation of fossil gas.

Number of methane detection satellites deployed

Innovation
In the absence of frequent, groundside monitoring by companies at oil and gas production sites, satellites can be used to monitor methane emissions; currently, four companies have deployed or plan to deploy a total of 35 methane detection satellites.

Most estimates of methane emissions are done not by observation, but by multiplying oil and gas production by emission factors produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In the absence of frequent, groundside monitoring by companies at oil and gas production sites, some third-party organizations have undertaken plans to launch satellites to monitor methane emissions.

Currently, four companies have deployed or plan to deploy a total of 35 methane detection satellites. Not all satellites were deployed or planned in 2022, but we currently do not have a historical record of satellite deployment over time.

Methane detection satellites contribute to a larger ecosystem of methane emissions measurement, but because they can only provide a snapshot and not continuous monitoring, they must be complemented by longer-term plans to conduct groundside monitoring and repair regimes at oil and gas sites.

Number of countries in the Zero Routine Flaring Initiative

Leadership
Eliminating routine flaring and venting by 2030 is necessary for a 1.5 degrees C-aligned pathway, and the Zero Routine Flaring Initiative has been endorsed by 32 countries, 3 states, 53 oil companies and 15 international development agencies.

Several industry efforts are underway to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas. One multilateral partnership is the Zero Routine Flaring Initiative (ZRFI), a World Bank-led coalition of governments and oil and gas companies promoting bans on non-emergency flaring and venting by 2030. The number of countries participating in the ZRFI does not account for countries that have flaring or venting restrictions that are less stringent than zero by 2030. The ZRFI was established in 2015, but at present, we do not have a historical record of how the number of signatories has changed over time.

Because the literature has established that eliminating routine flaring and venting by 2030 is necessary for a 1.5 degrees C-aligned pathway, it is helpful to understand which countries have implemented this key policy. The ZRFI is currently endorsed by 32 countries as well as the states of California, Colorado and Western Australia, 53 oil companies and 15 international development agencies.

Number of countries committed to the Global Methane Pledge

Leadership
As of August 1, 2022, 121 countries had endorsed the Global Methane Pledge, through which parties agree to take voluntary actions to collectively reduce global methane emissions by 30% below 2020 levels by 2030.

In 2021, the Global Methane Pledge was unveiled at COP26 through a partnership between the United States and the European Union and other parties to the Paris Agreement. Through it, parties agree to take voluntary actions to collectively reduce global methane emissions (including emissions from the energy, waste and agricultural sectors) by 30% below 2020 levels by 2030.

It is worth noting that this is an average across all methane-emitting systems — in 1.5 degrees C pathways, energy systems must reduce methane emissions by around 60% while other systems like agriculture see reductions of less than 30%.

As of August 1, 2022, 121 countries had endorsed this pledge, including countries that had not submitted an official Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). 

Under this initiative, more than $328 million has been pledged to drastically reduce methane emissions from three key economic sectors: fossil fuel energy, waste and agriculture.

Number of companies in the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership 2.0

Leadership
The Oil and Gas Methane Partnership 2.0, an effort to create the “gold standard” for methane reporting in the oil and gas industry, launched with 62 oil and gas company members in 2020; as of mid-2022, 79 companies were members.

In 2020, the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership (OGMP) 2.0 was launched in an effort to create the “gold standard” for methane reporting in the oil and gas industry. The framework requires companies to report all direct (scope 1) emissions from anywhere along the supply chain where companies own and/or operate assets. This includes fugitive emissions and emissions from flaring and venting.

The framework also requires companies to set targets in line with one of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition’s Mineral Methane Initiative sectoral targets: a 45% reduction in methane emissions from 2015 to 2025 and a 75% reduction by 2030.

In lieu of these targets, companies can demonstrate their commitment by adopting the Oil and Gas Climate Initative’s methane intensity target of “well below” 0.2% by 2025. The OGMP 2.0 launched with 62 oil and gas company members in 2020; as of mid-2022, 79 companies were members.

Number of countries committing to methane reduction under the Paris Agreement

Strong Institutions
New analysis shows that as of mid-2022, 86 countries had included methane reduction actions from energy as part of their overall climate reduction strategies. This overall number is not enough to align with a 1.5 degrees C pathway.

As part of the Paris Agreement signed in 2015, countries committed to updating their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) every five years. In the first round of updates since initial NDCs were submitted, countries are adding more aggressive climate mitigation targets that also take into account non-CO2 gasses such as methane.

New analysis by WRI shows that as of mid-2022, 86 countries had included methane reduction actions from energy as part of their overall climate reduction strategies. This overall number is not enough to align with a 1.5 degrees C pathway.