A recent study analyzing satellite observations of methane emissions from global oil and gas operations revealed that the actual releases are 30% higher than what countries report to the United Nations (UN). The report, published in Nature Communications, highlights that the four largest emitters, namely the US, Russia, Venezuela, and Turkmenistan, account for a majority of the discrepancy.
The findings challenge the emissions figures provided by countries to the UN, which rely on emissions factors to estimate the amount of methane equipment would typically release. The study shows that these estimates are significantly lower than the real-world data recorded by satellites.
Utilizing a “top-down” approach, the authors used data from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5P satellite to model and estimate global emissions from fossil fuel production. The study suggests that satellite data should be utilized to monitor the accuracy of national emission inventories reported to the UN.
Incorporating top-down methods alongside the current bottom-up estimates would provide governments with a clearer understanding of the responsible parties and effective methods to reduce methane emissions.
This comprehensive research covers 96% of global oil and gas emissions, corroborating previous studies that have exposed underreporting of methane emissions. Methane, a prominent component of natural gas, is also released during oil and coal production. Its warming potential is over 80 times higher than that of carbon dioxide during its first two decades in the atmosphere.
Reducing methane emissions could significantly contribute to slowing down climate change. Countries such as the US, Canada, Uzbekistan, and Saudi Arabia have joined the Global Methane Pledge, which aims to achieve a 30% reduction in global methane emissions by the end of the decade. According to Daniel Jacob, one of the study’s authors, if methane from human activity accounts for a larger share of total emissions, a 30% reduction would have a greater impact on overall methane concentrations.
The study also identifies significant opportunities for emissions reduction in countries like Venezuela, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Angola, Iraq, Ukraine, Nigeria, and Mexico, all of which have high methane intensities in their oil and gas industries. Lowering these intensities to the global average would result in an 18% reduction in emissions from the sector worldwide.