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Unlit gas flares are the cause of the worst methane leaks produced by the energy industry, data from a Canadian methane monitoring company GHGSat Inc has suggested.
Bloomberg cites the data and explains that unlit flares are gas flares extinguished by either high winds or equipment malfunctions, allowing the methane to escape unchecked. Under normal circumstances, the flame would burn off the unused natural gas, turning methane into carbon dioxide, a much less potent greenhouse gas than methane.
“Unlit flares are larger than any other source we’ve found, in any market segment,” the president of GHGSat Inc. told Bloomberg in an interview. “It’s certainly true in energy assets, but it’s also true overall.”
Methane is drawing more and more attention from climate change activists and other organisations because of its powerful greenhouse properties. As a result, the energy industry has come under stricter scrutiny, with many companies voluntarily announcing plans to keep a closer eye on how much methane they produce in the process of oil and gas extraction.
Shale in particular has been blamed for a sharp rise in global methane emissions over the past decade. A study released last month suggested shale oil was the single most important factor for this rise.
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“Previous studies erroneously concluded that biological sources are the cause of the rising methane,” study author Robert W. Howarth said. “The commercialization of shale gas and oil in the 21st century has dramatically increased global methane emissions.”
But even if we leave methane aside, gas flaring is still a problem. A World Bank report earlier this year revealed rising shale oil production in the United States drove gas flaring up 48 percent in 2018 also pushed up the global total by 3 percent to 145 billion cubic meters.
In the Permian alone, soaring oil production and a shortage of gas pipelines drove flaring to a record in the first quarter of this year. Now, there are new gas pipelines coming on stream, so flaring should fall but likely not enough to make those concerned about emissions happy. Still, most of the methane leaked comes from Asia—not the US shale patch.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.