Regulators around the globe are using monitoring tools, from infrared cameras to satellites, to call out oil and gas companies for methane leaks that are often underreported by fossil producers, with one group of U.S. legislators concluding that fossils are not concerned that the technology could fail—but rather that it might succeed.
In Australia, a new report recently showed that emissions from the country’s coal industry are nearly twice that reported in official estimates, says BBC. Though Australia did not sign on to the highly-touted methane reduction pledge at last year’s COP 26 climate summit, its newly-elected government is promising to take action on the leaks, which will obstruct the country from reaching its climate targets if not addressed.
The report compared the officially reported methane leaks against research compiled by the International Energy Agency (IEA), which used satellites to paint a more accurate picture of the problem, BBC says.
Satellites owned by the European Space Agency (ESA) recently exposed methane leaks in Russia, as well, after two plumes were detected near infrastructure owned by state fossil Gazprom. Gazprom has acknowledged the leaks, but claims they were part of routine maintenance and in line with legal requirements, reports BNN Bloomberg.
ESA satellites were also responsible for revealing leaks in the U.S, last month. State officials are now investigating to find the source of a methane cloud detected by ESA satellites in Louisiana after being contacted by Bloomberg News.
According to data analyzed by geoanalytics firm Kayrros SAS, “the plume had an emissions rate of 44 tons of methane an hour and was the most severe detected in the U.S. since March 19,” Bloomberg writes. “If the release lasted an hour… it would have roughly the same short-term impact as the annual emissions from about 800 U.S. cars.”
Of the three operators with pipelines in the vicinity of the cloud—Kinder Morgan, Boardwalk Pipelines LP, and Energy Transfer—none have claimed responsibility, the news agency adds.
Methane leak monitoring was also the focus of recent hearings before the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, after the release of a report compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA found that fossils are “failing to address super-emitting methane leaks, deflecting the use of methane quantification data, and deploying mitigating methane detection technologies too slowly and too inconsistently,” said Committee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), at a committee hearing last week investigating methane leaks in the fracking fields of the Permian Basin.
Using internal data from oil and gas companies, the committee and found that operators were “failing to design, equip and inform” methane leakage detection programs, and that their response to the problem does not “reflect the latest scientific evidence on methane leaks,” reports CNN.
Although the investigation was meant to evaluate the scale of methane leakage across the entire sector, the committee focused on the Permian because of its “centrality” as a source of oil and gas sector methane emissions, the legislators wrote [pdf].
Among the key findings was that, where Methane Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) strategies are implemented, the scope is too narrow and limited to fully address the scale of the problem, despite the technology’s ability to provide a more rigorous assessment.
One company’s methane management team commented that permanent deployment of LDAR technology would pose “near-term risks”—including that “more frequent awareness of gas emissions and leaks could lead to more action, which could be costly”. That had the committee speculating that expected costs were motivating fossils to dodge more effective monitoring.
“The point is brutally clear,” said the report. “The operator’s technology experts were warning that the technology’s biggest risk was not that it would fail, but rather that it would succeed – and in doing so, would find more methane leaks that the operator would then be responsible for, with all of the accompanying repair costs and reputational risks that might ensue.”
The findings show that “the oil and gas sector has a long way to go to rein in methane leaks,” Johnson concluded. Scientists and methane detection technology experts at the hearing said the U.S. is one the highest methane-emitting countries in the world, but also has an opportunity to be a leader by addressing methane emissions and the wider climate crisis, CNN says.