Methane emissions from fossil fuel production and use must be cut quickly if we want to meet the world’s climate goals, say the International Energy Agency (IEA), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UNEP-convened Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) in a new report. To do this, we must further develop methane-emissions monitoring methods.
The new report, The Imperative of Cutting Methane from Fossil Fuels, released on 11 October 2023, is a loud wake-up call for all of us. If we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C, decisive, far-reaching efforts to cut methane emissions from fossil fuel production and use must go hand-in-hand with decarbonising our energy systems. The report shows that, while a decrease in fossil fuel demand would cut methane emissions, those reductions would not occur quickly enough to meet the global climate goals. Additional targeted actions to tackle methane emissions from fossil fuel production and use – such as eliminating routine venting and flaring and repairing leaks – are essential to limiting warming to 1.5°C and, even more importantly, reducing the risk of crossing irreversible climate tipping points.
Methane (CH₄) has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide (CO₂) over the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas responsible for around 30% of the rise in global temperatures since the Industrial Revolution. Rapid cuts in methane emissions from fossil fuels could avoid up to 0.1°C increase in global temperatures by the middle of this century. That reduction would be larger than the emissions impact of immediately taking all cars and trucks off the road across the entire globe.
Methane contributes to more than just global warming. It also increases ground-level ozone pollution causing, among other things, premature deaths.
OGMP 2.0 has improved reporting
As the three organisations state, appropriate regulatory frameworks are needed, as is a dramatic ramp-up in investment in measures to mitigate methane emissions from fossil fuel production.
We have been glad to see that several companies and regulators have already taken necessary steps in the right direction. For instance, one of the critical steps in mitigating methane emissions is to track and monitor leaks, and we are currently benefitting from new reporting tools and standards not available a decade ago.
The Oil & Gas Methane Partnership 2.0 (OGMP 2.0) is a comprehensive, measurement-based reporting framework for the oil and gas industry that has already improved our understanding of methane emissions around the globe. The OGMP 2.0 improves the accuracy and transparency of oil and gas organisations’ methane emissions reports. Owing to the increased awareness and better understanding of the science of methane’s environmental impacts, the OGMP invites companies to ameliorate the quantity and quality of fugitive emissions data voluntarily.
Over 80 companies have committed to the OGMP 2.0 framework and joined the multi-stakeholder initiative launched by the UNEP and the CCAC. Some of the largest energy companies have joined the OGMP 2.0 initiative. This partnership also links regulators and civil society groups to the oil and gas industry. For instance, the European Commission is a non-company member of the OGMP, and the OGMP 2.0 serves as the basis for the European Commission’s proposal for new methane regulations. In addition to major oil and gas production companies, operators of natural gas transmission and distribution pipelines, gas storage facilities and LNG terminals are also OGMP 2.0 members.
We need more detailed rules and education
However, there are still clear challenges to implementing the OGMP 2.0. One of them is the lack of clarity on reconciliation. Reconciliation is the practice of comparing methane emission estimates made with different methods to confirm the results. To be more precise, it means comparing source-level, Level 4, inventories with site-level measurements to produce Level 5 asset emissions.
According to the OGMP guideline, reconciliation has been achieved when each of your methods is within the uncertainty bandwidth of the other method. However, this is not enough. If one of the methods has substantial uncertainty, almost any result from another method can be considered sufficient for reconciliation. This standard is too lax as it permits measurements that do not really help us cut emissions. We need more detailed guidelines that help companies understand what is truly necessary to get meaningful results. Rigorous guidelines would also prevent companies from earning savings from investing in measurements that technically fulfil regulatory requirements but in reality do not provide an adequate understanding of emission reductions.
We also need more education about the OGMP 2.0 framework and regulations in the EU and the United States. The framework and regulations are relatively new, and when talking with representatives of different companies, we hear that many companies do not yet know what is expected from them when monitoring emissions using new methods. Smaller fossil fuel companies especially often may not have enough experts available to learn what is expected from them.
Focus on oil and gas operations
There are good reasons to pay attention to the fossil fuel industry. According to the IEA, UNEP and CCAC, more than 75% of methane emissions from oil and gas operations and half of the emissions from coal today can be abated with existing technology, often at low cost. The oil and gas sector has the most significant share of ready-to-implement and cost-effective technical opportunities to reduce methane emissions.
The costs are also reasonable. The organisations estimate that the total spending required to deploy all available methane mitigation strategies in the oil and gas sector through 2030 is less than 2% of the industry’s net income in 2022.