Observed methane releases from global oil and gas operations are significantly higher than what countries report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), according to a recent study based on satellite observations. The study reveals that emissions are underestimated by about 30%. The discrepancy is most pronounced in the world’s four largest oil and gas emitters: the United States, Russia, Venezuela, and Turkmenistan.
The findings challenge the accuracy of current UN reports, which rely on emissions factors and estimates for methane equipment releases applied to production and use rates. By using satellite data, the study adopts a “top-down” approach to estimate emissions from fossil fuel production worldwide. This method offers more accurate information regarding the responsible parties and sources of methane emissions, aiding governments in identifying cost-effective means of reducing them.
Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas with more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide during its first two decades in the atmosphere. The impact of curbing methane emissions is significant, as it can have a greater effect on slowing climate change than many other measures. Consequently, three of the largest methane emitters identified in the study — the United States, Canada, and Saudi Arabia — have committed to the Global Methane Pledge, which targets a 30% reduction in global methane emissions by the end of the decade.
The study also identifies several countries, including Venezuela, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Angola, Iraq, Ukraine, Nigeria, and Mexico, with high methane intensities in their oil and gas industries. Lowering their methane intensities to the global average could reduce emissions from the sector worldwide by 18%.
The research highlights the importance of incorporating satellite data to monitor and improve national emission inventories. By doing so, governments can gain a clearer understanding of the true extent of methane emissions and develop effective strategies for mitigation.