Governments report much lower methane emissions from the energy sector than reality

Satellite images show that methane emissions from the energy sector are 70% higher than official statistics reported by governments. Leaks of methane could supply all of the gas used in Europe.

Coal mine methane leaks
Indonesia coal mine in South Kalimantan. Leaks of methane from power plants could power the entire Europe | © Dominik Vanyi, 2018

The International Energy Agency said on February 24 that methane emissions from oil, gas and coal production are significantly higher than what governments claim.

The Paris-based agency said its analysis shows emissions from fossil fuel are 70% higher than the official figures provided by governments worldwide.

Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and is responsible for around 30% of the rise in global temperatures since the Industrial Revolution according to the IEA. It’s the second biggest contributor to global warming. The gas remains in the atmosphere for a much shorter period of time than carbon dioxide, however.

The reports points out the lack of data and monitoring of methane emissions in the energy sector. The agency therefore calls for greater transparency on the size and location of methane emissions.

The energy industry accounts for around 40% of methane emissions from human activity, little less than the agriculture industry.

The leaks of methane could supply all of Europe’s power sector: “If all methane leaks from fossil fuel operations in 2021 had been captured and sold, then natural gas markets would have been supplied with an additional 180 billion cubic meters of natural gas. That is equivalent to all the gas used in Europe’s power sector and more than enough to ease today’s market tightness.”

Methane emissions from the energy sector grew by almost 5% last year. Significant emissions were confirmed in Texas and parts of Central Asia, with Turkmenistan alone responsible for one-third of large emissions events seen by satellites in 2021. Relatively few major leaks were detected for the major onshore oil and gas producers in the Middle East.

Satellites to monitor leaks of methane emissions from power plants

Methane emissions are higher than 2019 levels. However, the report notes the growth in methane emissions is lower than the rise in overall energy use, “indicating that some efforts to limit emissions may already be paying off”.

To conduct their evaluation of methane gas emissions, the Methane Global Tracker is using satellite images of power plants. Nevertheless, regions along the equator, the far north and offshore are still poorly covered by satellites.

Recently, a team of researchers from the Netherlands found with the use of satellites that Australian coal mines would emit much more methane than reported by the government because of leaks. Stuck in coal seams, methane and other gas are released as coal is being extracted.

During the COP26 in Glasgow, more than 110 countries pledged to reduce methane emissions from human activities – including agriculture, the energy sector and other sources – by 30% by 2030. But China, Russia, Iran and India, four of the five largest methane emissions from their energy industry, didn’t take part of the pledge.

Cutting global methane emissions from human activities by 30% by the end of this decade would have the same effect on global warming by 2050 as shifting the entire transport sector to net zero CO2 emissions,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol.

Methane emissions from the energy sector are 70% higher than official figures, IEA, February 2022, Free access

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