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A new study has revealed that the amount of gas leaks in the US energy industry is three times higher than previously reported.
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A new study has revealed that the amount of gas leaks in the US energy industry is three times higher than previously reported.

A recent study has found that US oil and gas facilities, including wells, pipelines, and compressors, are emitting three times the amount of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, compared to government estimates. This leads to an estimated annual climate impact of $9.3 billion.

The lead author of a study in the journal Nature reported that the issue of methane emissions is more severe than what the government has found, as a majority of the emissions originate from a small percentage of oil and gas sites, estimated to be 1% or less. However, this also means that the problem is relatively solvable.

The same issue is happening globally. Large methane emissions events around the world detected by satellites grew 50% in 2023 compared with 2022 with more than 5m metric tons spotted in major fossil fuel leaks, the International Energy Agency reported on Wednesday in its Global Methane Tracker 2024 report. World methane emissions rose slightly in 2023 to 120m metric tons, the report said.

According to the lead author, Evan Sherwin, an energy and policy analyst at the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, this presents a great chance to quickly reduce emissions by focusing on the most significant sources of emissions. Sherwin, who conducted the study while at Stanford University, believes that if we can effectively tackle just 1% of these sites, we can make significant progress as it accounts for approximately half of the emissions in many cases.

Sherwin mentioned that the emissions from a runaway source were created in various stages of the production and transportation of oil and gas, beginning with gas flaring. This occurs when companies release or burn natural gas rather than capturing it during the extraction of energy. According to Sherwin, there are also significant leaks in other parts of the system, such as tanks, compressors, and pipelines.

“He stated that it is actually easy to remedy.”

A recent study indicated that approximately 3% of gas production in the US is lost and released into the atmosphere. This is significantly higher than the Environmental Protection Agency’s estimated rate of 1%. According to Sherwin, this amounts to a considerable 6.2 million tons per hour of leaks during daytime, with potential for even higher amounts at night, although this has not been measured.

The research determined the number using data from 1 million anonymous readings collected from airplanes that flew over 52% of oil wells and 29% of sites in the gas production and delivery system in the span of ten years in the United States. Sherwin explained that the estimated leakage rate of 3% was based on the average of six regions studied, and a national average was not specifically calculated.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, methane has a significantly greater heat-trapping effect than carbon dioxide over a twenty-year span. However, its lifespan in the atmosphere is much shorter, lasting only about a decade compared to carbon dioxide’s lifespan of hundreds of years.

According to Christophe McGlade, the head of the International Energy Agency’s energy supply unit, methane emissions are responsible for around 30% of the world’s warming since preindustrial times. The United States is the top methane emitter in the oil and gas production industry, while China emits even more methane from coal.

In December, the Biden administration implemented a new regulation that requires the American oil and gas industry to decrease the amount of methane it releases. At the United Nations climate talks in Dubai, 50 international oil companies committed to reducing their methane emissions and stopping the practice of flaring by 2030. According to a leading climate expert, this agreement in Dubai could result in a decrease of one-tenth of a degree Celsius (equivalent to almost two-tenths of a degree Fahrenheit) in future global warming.

A rising trend is the use of aerial monitoring to track methane rather than relying on company estimates or measuring at specific sites. Recently, the Environmental Defense Fund and other organizations launched the MethaneSat observation satellite to observe methane emissions. According to Sherwin’s research, this lost methane is worth approximately $1 billion per year for energy companies.

Source: theguardian.com