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UK Underestimates Oil And Gas Industry Emissions, Study Finds

Researchers have found that oil and gas production could leak as much as five times more methane than the levels currently reported.

A recent study from researchers at Princeton University and Colorado State University has found inaccuracies within the current method for estimating methane emissions from offshore oil and gas production in the UK.

As a result, as much as five times more methane is being leaked from oil and gas production than currently reported, the researchers said. 

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas providing more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide within the first 20 years of it reaching the atmosphere. It is currently estimated to contribute at least a quarter of today’s climate warming.

Currently, countries are obligated to report their greenhouse gas emissions to international bodies such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

However, the study suggested the methods used to make these calculations rely on outdated and incomplete information and may not accurately represent actual emissions.

The researchers reached this conclusion by critically evaluating the UK’s current method of calculating methane emission and comparing the outcomes with data obtained from alternative, peer-review-based methods. 

“It is critical to know when, where and how much methane is emitted from each of its sources in order to prioritise emission reductions,” said Denise Mauzerall, a co-author of the study.

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“We hope our work will facilitate improved emission estimates and reductions not only from the UK but also from other countries producing methane from oil and gas extraction.” 

The researchers found that the emissions factors used in the UK’s reporting are either outdated, rely on unpublished or publicly unavailable industry research, or use generic values recommended by the IPCC.

Furthermore, these emission factors are usually ‘static’, meaning that they are not sensitive to factors such as environmental conditions and management practices, which could affect emissions from various processes. 

The researchers updated and revised estimation techniques for each process, using dynamic emission factor formulations that account for changing environmental conditions. They also incorporated direct boat-based measurements of methane concentrations around offshore gas platforms in the North Sea. 

“Methane emissions from offshore facilities are currently largely uncertain, and because sources on facilities only emit for a short time period, using direct survey methods such as satellite or drones will probably only capture about 25 per cent of the actual emissions,” said Stuart Riddick, lead author of the paper.

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“To generate representative baseline emissions across the sector, we need to work with industry to develop practical, effective, and collaborative measurement strategies.”

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, countries must cut methane emissions by at least 30 per cent by 2030 – the goal of the Global Methane Pledge – to keep the 1.5°C temperature limit within reach.

Last November, the UN announced a new satellite-based methane-detection system that aimed to help countries keep track of their emissions, and work to reduce them. A month later, the nonprofit group Carbon Mapper said it would use observations from a Nasa satellite to discover the landfill sites responsible for emitting the most methane.

Source: E&T

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