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Methane leaks from oil and gas production are one of the culprits behind increased methane emissions over the decade from 2007 to 2017, two new studies cited by Reuters have revealed.
Methane leaks from oil and gas operations were the main contributor to higher methane emissions in the United States, while in South Asia, South America, and Africa, the biggest contribution came from agriculture, especially livestock farming. In China specifically, the increase in methane emissions was driven by both the oil and gas industry, and agriculture.
“It’s more robust evidence that fossil fuels and agriculture are both equally contributing to the increase of methane contributions in the atmosphere,” one of the studies’ authors, NASA Goddard environmental scientist Ben Paulter, told Reuters.
“Previous studies erroneously concluded that biological sources are the cause of the rising methane,” the author of an earlier study that found shale oil and gas to be big emitters of methane said last year. “The commercialization of shale gas and oil in the 21st century has dramatically increased global methane emissions.”
Methane has been drawing increased attention from environmentalists and, consequently, regulators. The oil and gas industry is an obvious target of this attention because of its proneness to gas leaks as well as gas flaring, which releases mostly methane into the atmosphere.
Despite a relatively lax regulatory framework in the U.S., oil and gas companies have started making voluntary commitments that for now focus mostly on methane monitoring. BP recently said it will take things further: the supermajor plans to measure exactly how much methane its global business generates by 2023.
Satellite data companies are becoming essential allies in this fight against methane. They can provide the most up-to-date and accurate data on methane leaks, and this data is now revealing that the oil and gas industry is leaking more methane than previously believed.
Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide although it tends to dissipate more quickly than the number-one focus of government, regulatory, and environmentalist attention. Like carbon dioxide, however, it can be harnessed to produce energy.
By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com
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Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com