Ultra-emitting facilities are responsible for 10% of global oil and gas methane emissions yet are currently missing from most inventories.
Pasadena, California—February 3, 2022— Carbon Mapper is part of an international team of scientists led by the Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement (LSCE, France) with the analytics firm Kayrros, Duke University’s Nicholas School for the Environment, and The Cyprus Institute’s Climate and Atmospheric Research Centre (Cyprus) that identified oil and gas facilities emitting significant amounts of methane in sporadic bursts. These emissions have a significant climate impact yet are not completely accounted for in existing emissions inventory estimates.
This peer-reviewed research was published today in the journal Science.
The team performed a systematic analysis of thousands of images produced daily by the European Space Agency satellite mission Sentinel-5P to estimate the amount of methane released into the atmosphere by oil and gas production activities. Over a two-year period, they detected 1,200 “ultra-emitters” attributed to oil and gas facilities and along major transmission pipelines that sporadically release greater than 25 tons of methane per hour over most of the largest oil and gas basins worldwide. Together, these facilities represent more than 50% of the total onshore natural gas production. Most of the ultra-emitters were short-lived and many are likely due to planned maintenance activities.
The study focused on six top oil and gas producing countries where ultra-emitting activities are particularly frequent and revealed that in total, these unreported releases contribute to approximately 10% of all methane emissions from these country’s oil and gas operations. This is an incredibly large contribution for such a limited number of events.
These methane sources also represent billions of dollars in subsequent costs when considering their climate impact and natural gas loss. Mitigating these emissions represents the equivalent of taking 20 million vehicles per year off the road, and the avoided warming would prevent approximately 1,600 premature deaths annually due to heat exposure.
Collaborating scientists Riley Duren and Daniel Cusworth from Carbon Mapper, the University of Arizona, and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory contributed analysis based on their team’s experience studying methane emissions with remote sensing aircraft that complement the Sentinel-5P data with observations at higher spatial resolution and lower detection limits.
“To our knowledge, this is the first worldwide study to estimate the amount of methane released into the atmosphere by maintenance operations and accidental releases,” said Thomas Lauvaux, CNRS research scientist of the French Make Our Planet Great Again program at LSCE. “Unreported ultra-emitters explain in part the under-estimation in official oil and gas reported emissions by countries as documented by previous studies. The atmospheric monitoring approach enabled by recent satellite missions provides a unique perspective on oil and gas activities, and the potential to mitigate these large releases of methane.”
Several recent studies have demonstrated that oil and gas emissions are often underestimated by conventional accounting methods due to the absence of a global monitoring system able to track high emissions sources including leaks and planned venting. Therefore, the identification and quantification of these sources has significant implications for individual country emissions inventories, as well as global methane emissions estimates which have risen in international importance with the Global Methane Pledge.
“This work confirms what we have only glimpsed in previous studies of individual facilities and regions: that intermittent, large releases of methane from oil and gas operations are common globally and are mostly unreported,” said Riley Duren, Carbon Mapper Chief Executive Officer. “In this critical decade for climate action, this underscores the urgent need for persistent global observing systems that can detect, pinpoint and quantify methane emissions at scales relevant to decision making.”
“Our study supplies a first systematic estimate of large methane leaks that can only be seen from space, showing how these detections relate to wider methane monitoring processes,” added Alexandre d’Aspremont of Kayrros. “This is a giant step towards overcoming the current limitations of the methane reporting system which is critical to meeting COP26 commitments to slash methane.”
The study concluded that readily available and cost-effective strategies such as enforcing leak detection and repair strategies or reducing venting during routine maintenance and repairs can significantly reduce these ultra-emitters in the near-term.
“We find that capturing the methane from these ultra-emitters provides enormous benefits via reduced climate change and improved air quality. Society would come out billions of dollars ahead by eliminating the emissions from these sources,” said Dr. Drew Shindell from Duke University. “As the captured methane is a valuable commodity, the companies or countries capturing the wasted gas also typically come out ahead.”
About Carbon Mapper
Carbon Mapper is a non-profit organization focused on facilitating timely action to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Its mission is to fill gaps in the emerging global ecosystem of methane and CO2 monitoring systems by delivering data at facility scale that is precise, timely, and accessible to empower science-based decision making and action. The organization is leading the development of the Carbon Mapper constellation of satellites supported by a public-private partnership composed of Planet, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, the California Air Resources Board, the University of Arizona, Arizona State University, and RMI, with funding from High Tide Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, The Grantham Foundation, and other philanthropic donors. Learn more at carbonmapper.org and follow us on Twitter @carbonmapper.