Methane is a gas 80 times more dangerous than CO2 in the short term for trapping heat which causes global warming. An investigation across Europe has found that methane leaks in large volumes from the oil and gas industry are commonplace. The polluters are also doing that legally, as there are no regulations that require them to plug any methane leak or reduce the emissions.
The investigation is led by Clean Air Task Force (CATF) – a climate and energy organization. James Turitto – the person who filmed the leaks, has visited 150 oil and gas facilities in seven countries.
He used a special camera costing $119,000 that shows the release of large volumes of methane at 123 out of those sites. In some countries, more than 90% of the facilities were found to be polluting with methane emissions.
Since Europe is not a large producer of oil and gas, most of it is imported. The continent has an extensive pipeline network and storage facilities and methane is leaking from storage tanks, pipelines and liquefied natural gas import terminals, for example.
Methane Leak Sites
According to Mr Turitto, a half-dozen or so sites of the ones he visited can be called egregious polluters. The underground storage site in Minerbio – Italy’s largest natural gas storage site, had a single 200-250 feet tall stack, venting methane in massive quantities.
The company, owning the site – a subsidiary of Snam – was contacted and explained the leakage was the result of equipment malfunction that it intended to fix later this year. Other sizable methane emissions leaks that were found were in the LNG import terminal in La Spezia, Italy, and at fossil fuel infrastructures in Germany and Hungary.
“The footage reminds us that methane emission is very much a European problem, that it concerns all member states. None of the countries visited so far was exempted from it…So, if we want to really see a solution, we need to look at the European level,” said Alessia Virone, government affairs manager at CATF.
Venting is known to be worse than flaring as with flaring, methane is burned and turned into CO2 while with venting, methane is directly released into the atmosphere. The gas is found in the concentrations in the atmosphere of 1.7 parts per million (ppm) while CO2 is 416.45 ppm by volume.
Even though it is in much smaller concentrations than CO2 and only lasts for around 20 years in the atmosphere, it is far more potent than CO2 – 80 times, and accelerates far more climate change for the time it stays in the air. A continued rise in the amount of methane in the air can easily cancel out any near-term progress in reducing CO2 emissions.
According to a recent study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), global methane concentrations rose by a record amount in 2020. Urgent actions are needed by Europe to address the issue and start regulating methane pollution.
How To Reduce Methane Emissions
Fortunately, the process has already begun In October 2020 when the EU announced its Methane Strategy. Companies will be required to monitor and plug a methane leak under the new climate change law. A final legislative proposal is expected to be announced in Q4 of this year.
According to Mrs Virone, methane emissions are seriously underestimated, especially in the oil and gas industry. She claims that the European Commission could also ban venting and flaring, and put standards on oil and gas imports. A global agreement on methane pollution at an international level can also be explored.
“We have to figure out a mechanism of how to include methane emissions in the final price of imported oil and gas,” said Martin Hojsík, a member of the European Parliament from Slovakia.
There is also another attempt by public organizations to detect methane emissions. The New Zealand government and the US Environmental Defense Fund will launch a satellite in 2022 that will detect sources of methane emissions to tell the oil and gas companies where the leaks exactly are coming from in order to be fixed.
Europe is in urgent need of taking more concrete measures to address methane global warming pollution. The investigation shows the size and impact of a left-alone methane leak and calls for respective actions from the oil and gas companies. Clean Air Task Force also pointed to a petition that calls on the European Union to take action to cut methane pollution.