Tackling methane emissions

Reducing methane emissions – significantly and rapidly – is critical if the world is to achieve the aims of the Paris Agreement. It is a top priority for OGCI.

Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, especially in the first decades after its release into the atmosphere. But it stays in the atmosphere for a much shorter time, so reducing methane emissions now can result in an important near-term reduction in the pace of global warming that is complementary to carbon dioxide mitigation.

Methane emissions from human activities – mostly agriculture and fossil fuels – are growing fast[1]. Methane concentration in the atmosphere is already 150% greater than pre-industrial levels and now accounts for almost a quarter of the global warming the world is currently experiencing[2].

Since its inception in 2014, OGCI has made it a top priority to reduce methane emissions to near zero and supports the implementation of regulations tackling methane emissions reduction of new and existing sources.

Quantifying methane emissions from oil and gas

In the oil and gas industry – where the main sources of methane emissions are leaks, venting and flaring – emissions are largely estimated on the basis of engineering calculations and standard emission factors, rather than measured.

  • Standard emissions factors are based on efforts to aggregate available global and/or basin specific data, but they do not necessarily reflect specific site characteristics.
  • Sources associated with leaks are, by definition, unforeseen and control devices are designed to detect rather than quantify emissions.
  • Research in US oil and gas fields suggests that the bulk of methane emissions is caused by a few specific sites or site conditions.[3]

That explains why the range of estimates of methane emissions from the oil and gas industry is so wide. The International Energy Agency, for example, estimates methane emissions from the global oil and gas industry to be 82 million tonnes a year, while the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers’ estimate for the same scope is 15 million tonnes a year.


Deploying new technologies

The rapid evolution of satellite, drone and sensor technologies is enabling better detection, quantification and reporting of methane emissions by providing more frequent and accurate information. Our fund, OGCI Climate Investments, has invested in six innovative detection, quantification and mitigation technologies, and member companies are starting to test these in a commercial setting.

OGCI is working to establish common industry practices to deploy these technologies effectively in specific settings, such as onshore or offshore. This should improve identification of methane emissions, understand their frequency and persistence and help us to improve emission factors for better quantification.

Since 2017, OGCI has been supporting the Methane Science Studies, overseen by the UN’s Climate and Clean Air Coalition, to increase scientific knowledge and understanding of methane emissions from different types of sites across the global oil and gas industry. In 2020, we supported the Global Gas Flaring Explorer platform to help deliver improved transparency in flaring data from satellites.

[1] International Energy Agency, Global Methane Tracker 2020
[2] M. Saunois et al, Global Methane Budget 2020, Global Carbon Project
[3] D. Zavala-Araiza et al, Super-emitters in natural gas infrastructure are caused by abnormal process conditions, Nature Communications, 2017; climate.nasa.gov/news/2930/a-third-of-california-methane-traced-to-a-few-super-emitters/