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Halting the Vast Release of Methane Is Critical for Climate, U.N. Says; Senate Reinstates Obama-Era Controls on Climate-Warming Methane

image credit: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/21/climate/methane-leaks.html

Mark Silverstone's picture
Principal JMP Services AS

30+ years in Oil & Gas IndustryField of Interest: Environmental issues in general; waste management issues in particular. 

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An upcoming UN report will finally declare the urgent need to reduce methane emissions.  It

«...is expected to be published next month by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition and the United Nations Environment Programme."    

"It follows new data that showed that both carbon dioxide and methane levels in the atmosphere reached record highs last year, even as the coronavirus pandemic brought much of the global economy to a halt. The report also comes as a growing body of scientific evidence has shown that releases of methane from oil and gas production, one of the biggest sources of methane linked to human activity, may be larger than earlier estimates."

Not surprisingly:

"The report... singles out the fossil fuel industry as holding the greatest potential to cut its methane emissions at little or no cost."

The reason is, of course, that the methane that is now vented or burned, is in such quantities that the value of the gas, in many cases is greater than the cost of gathering it.

In a report from 2018 in Science:  

“…puts the rate of methane emissions from domestic oil and gas operations at 2.3 percent of total production per year, which is 60 percent higher than the current estimate from the Environmental Protection Agency. That might seem like a small fraction of the total, but it represents an estimated 13 million metric tons lost each year, or enough natural gas to fuel 10 million homes.»

That is about 6% of the total US GHG emissions (CO2 equivalent) in 2018 and 18% of, for example, of CO2 equivalent emissions from transport in the US.

The other major sources of methane emissions, i.e. livestock, land fills, agriculture and coal mining are also highly significant, though more difficult to abate.

The good news is (if you can believe this):

"At a climate summit in Washington this week, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, on top of pledging to “significantly” reduce the country’s emissions in the next three decades, called for a global reduction of methane."

However, when President Biden rolled out its new emissions goals:

"Republicans immediately questioned why Americans should sacrifice when Chinese coal pollution is likely to swamp any gains from U.S. emissions cuts, at least in the near term.

Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, said Thursday that China has “shamelessly” kept emitting more. “Their share of greenhouse gas emissions are now nearly double that of the United States,” he said."

Nevertheless, this is almost a done deal: 

"The Senate voted on Wednesday to effectively reinstate an Obama-era regulation designed to clamp down on emissions of methane, a powerful, climate-warming pollutant that will have to be controlled to meet President Biden’s ambitious climate change promises."

Even though it required use of the obscure  “Congressional Review Act",  (which ensures one administration’s last-minute regulations can be swiftly overturned with a simple majority vote in both chambers of Congress) it did pass with 3 Repubican Senators´ votes.

In addition, recently deployed satellite technology will make enforcement of the regulation much more effective:

"Studies of U.S. oil/gas fields have shown that a small number of high‐emitting facilities are responsible for the bulk of the total emission from oil/gas operations. So far, the only way to identify and quantify these sources has been through field studies involving aircraft and ground‐based observations, but these are expensive, and much of the world cannot be observed in this way."

"The GHGSat‐D satellite instrument measuring atmospheric methane with 50‐meter spatial resolution was launched in 2016 to demonstrate space‐based monitoring of methane point sources."

This may effectively remedy what is arguably one of the  most egregious assaults on the environment of the Trump era. I dare say that finding and fixing the leaks will keep a lot of oilfield workers busy for the immediate to medium future. But, implementation is everything. Let´s just hope that the EPA and other agencies can make sure that those responsible for these emissions will get the job done.

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