An oil pumpjack operates on November 02, 2021 in Long Beach, California. The Biden administration pledged to cut methane emissions from oil and gas production today. In California, 35,000 oil and gas wells sit idle, many of which are unplugged and could leak methane gas. Scientists estimate that one-third of human-induced global warming is caused by methane. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Mario Tama | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The energy industry is not making sufficient efforts to reduce its methane emissions, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency.

Carbon dioxide is the largest contributor to global warming. But while CO2 is 200 times more present in the atmosphere than methane and lasts a lot longer, methane’s warming effects are around 85 times as strong, and it’s contributed 30% of the rise in global temperatures since the Industrial Revolution.

The energy sector is the second-largest source of human-caused methane, behind only agriculture, and was responsible for 40% of human-created methane emissions in 2022, the IEA says.

But much of the methane emitted by the energy industry could be stopped with existing technologies, “highlighting a lack of industry action on an issue that is often very cheap to address,” the report said.

The global oil and gas industry would have to invest only 3% of the income it earned in 2022, $100 billion, to reduce its methane emissions by 75%, the report said. For the oil and gas industry, fixing methane emissions mostly comes down to finding and repairing leaks. The coal industry could capture methane from mines and then use it.

“Some progress is being made but that emissions are still far too high and not falling fast enough – especially as methane cuts are among the cheapest options to limit near-term global warming. There is just no excuse,” IEA executive director Fatih Birol said in a written statement.

“The Nord Stream pipeline explosion last year released a huge amount of methane into the atmosphere. But normal oil and gas operations around the world release the same amount of methane as the Nord Stream explosion every single day,” Birol said.

The IEA is a multigovernmental organization established in 1974 of OECD member countries after the oil crisis to help ensure global energy security and sustainability.

More than 150 countries have signed on to the Global Methane Pledge launched at the COP 26 conference in 2021 to address methane emissions. Those signatories represent 55% of anthropogenic methane emissions and 45% of methane emissions from the fossil fuel industry.

The danger of methane in contributing to global warming and the fact that it is fixable make the issue urgent, according to the IEA.

“The untamed release of methane in fossil fuel production is a problem that sometimes goes under the radar in public debate,” Birol said.

“Unfortunately, it’s not a new issue and emissions remain stubbornly high. Many companies saw hefty profits last year following a turbulent period for international oil and gas markets amid the global energy crisis. Fossil fuel producers need to step up and policy makers need to step in – and both must do so quickly.”

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