Fossil fuel sector has greatest scope for methane cuts to tackle climate crisis – UN

Plugging leaks in oil and gas infrastructure would significantly cut methane emissions at little or no cost, according to a major new UN report on tackling climate change.

But expansion of the use of natural gas was not compatible with climate targets without “massive-scale deployment of unproven carbon removal technologies”, the report concluded.

Methane, the main component of natural gas, has been responsible for about 30% of the global warming since the pre-industrial era. It is 86 times more powerful at trapping heat than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

Despite the Covid-19 lockdowns, levels of methane in the global atmosphere reached another record in 2020.

The 173-page Global Methane Assessment, published today, said urgent action was needed to reduce methane emissions.

Global warming would not be limited to the 1.5oC target by broader decarbonisation strategies alone, it said. Focussed strategies, specifically targeting methane, were needed.

Inger Andersen, executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said:

“Cutting methane is the strongest lever we have to slow climate change over the next 25 years and complements necessary efforts to reduce carbon dioxide. The benefits to society, economies, and the environmental are numerous and far outweigh the cost”.

The report, by UNEP and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, said almost a quarter of global methane emissions from human activities were from the oil and gas industry – and most of the solutions lay with the sector:

“the fossil fuel sector has the greatest potential for targeted mitigation by 2030. Readily available targeted measures could reduce emissions from the oil and gas sector by 29–57 Mt/yr [megatonne per year].”

According to the report, up to 80% of measures in the oil and gas industry could be implemented at negative or low cost.

About 60% of methane cuts in the sector could make money because reducing leaks would make more gas available for sale.

The report called for regular inspections of sites to detect leaks and emissions, recovery and use of vented gas, improved control of fugitive emissions and replacement or repair of equipment.

There should also be incentives for improved energy efficiency, demand management and expanded use of renewables for electricity generation.

In the UK, the Climate Change Committee has already advised the Westminster government to allow venting and flaring of methane on and offshore after 2025 only for safety reasons.

“Incompatible with 1.5° C target”

Today’s report also said emissions from the global fossil fuel sector were projected to grow by about 10 Mt/year, mostly from gas and oil production and distribution.

The number of uncapped abandoned oil and gas wells was increasing and could contribute to the growth of emissions, it said.

“without relying on future massive-scale deployment of unproven carbon removal technologies, expansion of natural gas infrastructure and usage is incompatible with keeping warming to 1.5° C.”

  • Research on eight North Sea oil and gas platforms has estimated methane emissions to be higher than those reported for the whole of the UK North Sea. A study in the Permian Basin in the US reported the level of methane leaks at 3.7% of all gas production.


Press release

Key findings

Full report

15 replies »

  1. Well, the first and very simple step would be to transfer as much oil and gas production as possible to the UK on shore where uncapped wells leaking methane are not an issue!

    Secondly, disruption and costs to the UK on shore oil and gas sector could be removed so that they had more money left to spend on making sure there were no other leakages.

    There we are. How to be part of the solution. Meanwhile, there will be those who seem to want more imports from countries where such methane leakage is an issue and want to be part of the problem, trying to claim they are looking after the future of the planet and their children. Nope-doesn’t add up-again.

    • Not sure if any platforms are still (or are even allowed to) using gas pneumatic actuators on xmas trees / wellheads in the North Sea. Instrumentation also used to be another source of gas emissions. In any case the emissions appear to be low as a % of production. It would be interesting to compare the age of the facility with the data for the individual platforms to see if the older ones have the higher % emissions. And field GORs would also be useful. in the comparison.

      The uncertainty noted makes you wonder what the point of this exercise was? Perhaps it was to estimate “uncertainty”?

      “We estimate the overall uncertainty in the average CH4 emission, calculated as the root of the sum of the individual uncertainties squared, to be ±45 %.”

  2. Wonder how Mr. Musk gets his rockets into the air?

    Another one, with a don’t do as I do, do as I say approach because I can become the world’s wealthiest man if you do so.

    Certainly a model to follow, however, jP, not sure others will do so well now it has been done.

    But, more seriously, there is no problem in maximizing renewable potential, but that is no reason not to concentrate upon simple improvements elsewhere, where oil and gas are known to be major inputs into the UK energy mix until at least 2050-and maybe somewhat longer now that we have a real example of the insecurity with Interconnectors. I am sure some will say they have pet schemes where renewable potential has not gone forward. Well, there are good reasons for them not going forward, and further encouragement for poor schemes to go forward and fail, as some already have, will actually set renewables back.

    • Strange but unsurprising how those who are concerned about importing fossil fuel make no reference to the thousands of containers arriving daily from places like china bringing us consumable throw away goods. Maybe those who worry about importing fossil fuels don’t use Chinese goods but I doubt that very much.

      • John P…I think they do, in past posts. Importing oil and gas or plastic, its all the same. I will now have to go rooting through past posts. Yep, the good redidents of east lindsay using oil, gas, plastic and relying on cheap plastic buckets and spades, but a few preferring imports rather than local production. ho hum.

      • Not strange, jP, as energy security has long been a point I have been making. I have also made the point that over 80% of our PPE is now made domestically, which may increase dependence upon oil but also indicates our dependence upon oil. I have also made the point about artificial rubber output being increased down at Fawley to help produce extra medical devices to assist in the fight against Covid. I have also made the point about maritime transport being one of the largest producers of emissions and the risk to the environment of another Torrey Canyon. And much more.

        But, that is on the other side of the equation and antis just want to ignore that or come up with daft maths. to try and dismiss.

        It is not about worrying regarding importing fossil fuel, it is just pointing out if there is an opportunity to replace with local production that has such advantages, including the subject of this report, why would anyone who is genuine about improving the environment be against it?

        The only logical one, is financial-like Mr. Musk. However, that rather removes the anti moral high ground that is claimed.

  3. So, what you are now saying is that wind energy is being exploited in UK, jP! But, only on May 7th, you were concerned that it was not being exploited enough.

    In other words, the exploitation of wind energy is happening in UK. And the importation of oil and gas are also happening. One is not constrained by the other, but UK production of oil and gas can reduce such aspects as methane leakage and transport emissions, so should be “accelerated”. I knew we would get there.

  4. To sum up then: we develop onshore fossil fuel industries in the UK in order to be able to control their methane emissions and meet UK demand. This will of course result in lower carbon dioxide emissions in the UK, and carbon dioxide and methane emissions elsewhere. Fossil fuel transportation by sea will stop as development outside the UK exists only to serve the UK. What a brilliant idea! That should stop any global heating and ensure we don’t waste any more on renewables. And the fossil fuel industry can carry on as before. Eureka!
    Good Lord. Is this the best argument the anti antis can come up with?

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