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Methane emissions from the oil & gas sector decline by 10% in 2020

19 January 2021

Methane emissions from the global oil and gas industry fell by an estimated 10% in 2020, according to data by the International Energy Agency (IEA), as energy companies slashed output in response to the historic shock of the Covid-19 crisis. IEA also warned that when the global economy recovers, these emissions could rebound strongly without greater action by companies, policy makers and regulators.

The IEA released two reports on methane emissions:

The energy sector—including oil, natural gas, coal and bioenergy—is one of the largest sources of methane emissions. Methane emissions from the natural gas and oil supply chain (colloquially called “methane leaks”) include fugitive emissions, usually defined as unintentional methane losses in oil and gas operations, and venting, defined as deliberate release of natural gas during the production or distribution process. As flaring of vented gas is the norm within the oil and gas industry, wherever feasible, a proportion of the vented gas becomes converted to CO2.

The IEA estimates that oil and gas operations worldwide emitted 72 million tonnes of methane into the atmosphere in 2020, around 10% lower than in 2019 and the lowest emission level since 2011. A large portion of this drop occurred because of the fall in oil and gas production over the course of the year—especially in countries and regions where production has a high emission intensity. The IEA report explicitly mentions lower production in Libya and Venezuela, as well as lower shale activity in the United States.

[SVG image]
Oil & gas sector methane emissions, historical and in the IEA Sustainable Development Scenario, 2000-2030

(Adapted from IEA [4425])

Converted into equivalent amounts of CO2, 72 Mt of methane emissions are comparable to the total energy-related CO2 emissions of the European Union, said the IEA. This conversion is based on the global warming potential of CH4 over a time horizon of 100 years (GWP100) equal to 30. However, it would be reasonable to consider GHG emission effects on a time scale shorter than 100 years. As the short-term warming effect of methane is higher, with GWP20 of about 85, the 72 Mt of methane emissions would amount to almost triple of the EU energy-related CO2 emissions on a twenty-year time scale.

The IEA analysis highlights that reducing methane emissions can be cost-effective for oil and gas companies. Unlike CO2, there is already a price for methane everywhere in the world—the price of natural gas. This means the costs of improving operations or making repairs to reduce methane losses can often be paid for by the value of the additional gas that is brought to market.

Source: IEA


Natural Gas