Methane at Clean Air Task Force’s (CATF’s) International Director leads efforts to reduce methane emissions, focusing on the oil and gas sector. CATF is collaborating with European start-up Kayrros, whose study using satellite imagery of Russian gas infrastructure reveals imported natural gas is responsible for an alarming amount of methane emissions.
Kayrros detected 13 emission events along the Yamal-Europe gas pipeline alone, which runs from Russia to Germany importing gas. The company caught an additional 33 events on the smaller Urengoy–Pomary–Uzhgorod pipeline, which delivers Russian gas to facilities close to the borders of Slovakia, Romania, and Hungary, as well as pumping stations in Ukraine.
The findings back up an issue climate advocates have been warning about for a long time: that Europe doesn’t know enough about the methane emissions linked to its energy consumption. While further analysis is needed to get a complete picture of the situation, the study highlights why forthcoming EU legislation could impact markets worldwide and help with the climate crisis if policies to control methane emissions are enacted.
The EU is among the top oil importers and the world’s largest natural gas importer. However, the only thing Europe knows about the industry’s methane emissions is that it’s the continent’s third-largest greenhouse gas emissions source and that studies continually prove the rate is higher than expected. If something isn’t done to turn this trend around, the Paris Climate Agreement goals will be impossible to meet, even with aggressive carbon emission reductions.
Methane is 80 times more potent a heat-trapping gas than CO2. Unfortunately, methane’s reported levels have only been rising, pushing the world closer to the brink of uncontrolled climate consequences.
The Kayrros study highlights how standard the intentional venting of methane is. The other way emissions happen is by methane leaking from worn flanges or other old equipment. The research also shows how venting increased when demand for Russian gas fell – which means, as financial pressure grows on oil and gas companies, which it will in coming years, the temptation to cut costs associated with monitoring and maintenance will increase.
Last year, the EU announced a methane strategy to cut domestic methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. But the plan is only a starting point because it doesn’t include imported sources – most notably Algeria, Norway, Qatar, and Russia.
As the Kayrros study shows, monitoring leaks is essential, but venting and flaring require particular attention. The Commission proposed legislative action to ban the practice by 2025 and set efficiency standards for emergency flaring. Advocates argue that this isn’t enough – that government should halt the highly polluting practices within the year; also, that policy should include a requirement to replace equipment intentionally designed to vent gas.
Strong methane legislation could reduce over five million tons of methane emissions annually – equal to the near-term warming reduction of replacing about 120 coal-fired power plants with carbon-free energy sources. Methane mitigation on a global scale is probably the strategy with the most potential to decrease warming in the next two decades.