The US oil and gas industry has a methane problem

New studies show that several oil and gas companies in the United States have underreported methane leaks in their operations in the Permian Basin. As Biden pushes his “Build Back Better” framework – aimed at tackling climate change, and his bipartisan Infrastructure Act – aimed at improving aging infrastructure, this latest report reveals significant weaknesses in the US energy sector.

It’s no secret that America’s aging and inadequate energy infrastructure is a huge weakness for the sector. Just last year there were huge power supply failures facing a severe storm in Texas. And in California, residents face grid outages every year as temperatures soar. But the need to fix widespread failures in energy infrastructure may be even more urgent than initially thought, as inefficiencies in private oil operations have led to serious methane leaks, which could hamper the government’s goal of reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The United States and international partners aim to reduce global methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030. However, America’s continued reliance on fossil fuels and inefficient infrastructure make this task seem monumental. A report released this month shows that methane emissions in the Permian Basin from the operations of major oil and gas companies “are likely significantly higher than official data” reported to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The new report suggests that “a very large proportion of methane emissions appear to be caused by a small number of super-emitting leaks”. The author of the report, the chair of the scientific committee, Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, declared that the United States is unlikely to meet its methane emission reduction targets without a “rapid and large-scale reduction in methane leakage in the oil and gas sector”.

In 2021, Biden announced a wide range of policies aimed at reducing methane emissions from fossil fuel operations. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also proposed rules to set better standards for older wells, which would require oil and gas companies to conduct more regular and rigorous monitoring of leaks, as well as to compel companies to introduce carbon capture technologies into their oil operations. But the report points out that of the ten companies examined, nine did not have an internal definition of a “super leak”. Two of the operators consider that the existing technologies do not allow an accurate assessment of leaks.

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The operators in question are Chevron, ExxonMobil, Admiral Permian Resources Operating, Ameredev II, ConocoPhillips, Coterra Energy, Devon Energy, Mewbourne Oil, Occidental Petroleum and Pioneer Natural Resources. A spokesperson for the lobby group American Petroleum Institute defended corporate oversight mechanisms, indicating “This industry is committed to meeting the challenge of reducing emissions while continuing to provide affordable and reliable energy. We support accuracy and transparency in GHG emissions reporting and continually improve emissions reporting, including the accelerated deployment of cost-effective direct measurement options.

However, the report found that in 2020, a super-emitting leak from one of the companies was equivalent to more than 80% of the methane emissions that the company had reported to the EPA for its oil and gas operations in the world. Permian Basin that year. This means that the seriousness of the leaks is probably underestimated.

Beyond the report, 21 oil wells recently revealed methane leaks in California. Many wells are apparently leaking 50,000 parts per million of methane or more – an amount at which the colorless, odorless gas can explode if ignited. California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) temporarily plugged several of the leaks.

California’s top oil regulator, Uduak-Joe Ntuk, has since been accused of lying on the severity of the leaks near Bakersfield. The regulator told the public the leaks were small and not of concern, which has since been proven to be untrue.

California pledged this month to invest $300 million in sealing methane leaks in response to government pressure to reduce emissions. Two-thirds of the funds will help plug unused and leaking wells, while the other third will be spent on methane-sensing satellites – to track global leaks of methane from fossil fuel operations, landfills and mining. ‘agriculture.

The announcement follows California’s commitment to reduce methane emissions by 40% by the end of the decade. Methane is much more harmful to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide – about 84 times more in its first two decades – although it lasts less time in the atmosphere.

As California responds to government calls to reduce methane emissions in its oil and gas operations, its regulators can understand the seriousness of some of the major leaks in the state. Additionally, the recent Super Emissions Leak report suggests that major oil and gas companies are likely underreporting their methane emissions, hampering the US goal of significantly reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

By Felicity Bradstock for

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