Flaring, which is the burning of natural gas escaping from fossil fuel wells to produce methane, releases five times more methane that was previously thought. according toAn analysis of U.S. operations, published in the journal Science.
The study, led by researchers at the University of Michigan, is based on data collected during 13 flights over three years at the Bakken oil and gas field in North Dakota as well as the Eagle Ford and Permian fields in Texas — which collectively have over 80% of all U.S. flaring operations.
Flaring transforms methane into carbon dioxide; although both are greenhouse gases the former is over 80 timesIn terms of its global heating potential, it is more potent that the latter in the 20-years following its release into atmosphere.
“Industry and governments generally assume that flares remain lit and destroy methane, the predominant component of natural gas, with 98% efficiency,” the study states. “Neither assumption, however, is based on real-world observations.”
The researcher simultaneously measured methane as well as carbon dioxide at flaring sites.
“If the flare is operating as it should be, there should be a large carbon dioxide spike and a relatively small methane spike. And depending on the relative enhancement of those two gasses, we can tell how well the flares are performing,” explainedGenevieve Plant is the lead author and an assistant researcher scientist at the University of Michigan.
As co-author and professor Eric Kort summarized, the researchers discovered that “there is a lot more methane being added to the atmosphere than currently accounted for in any inventories or estimates.”
Specifically, they found that due to inefficient combustion and flares being unlit 3%-5% of the time, the average efficiency rate is just 91%, which works out to “a fivefold increase in methane emissions above present assumptions” and 4%-10% of total U.S. oil and gas methane emissions.
As The New York Times reported:
Chief executive of Carbon Mapper is Riley Duren. This non-profit group is launching satellites in the next year to monitor and detect sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
But the researchers’ comprehensive survey shows that inefficient flaring “is a more systematic issue,” said Dr. Duren, who was not involved in the study.
Dr. Duren stated that flaring efficiency is not observed in other parts of the world. But globally, he said, “it’s likely the case that combustion and flaring is less efficient than assumed.”
Although scientists and campaigners continue to point out the dire climate crisis as proof that we must quickly transition away from fossil fuels, this research team found that even improving flaring could have a significant impact.
“This appears to be a source of methane emissions that seems quite addressable,” said Plant. “With management practices and our better understanding of what’s happening to these flares, we can reduce this source of methane in a tangible way.”
Kort explained that fixing flaring issues would increase efficiency and be equivalent to removing approximately three million gasoline-powered vehicles off the roads.
The team’s findings align with previous observations by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) — a research partner for the new study. The nonprofit group conductedIn 2020, aerial surveys of Permian Basin revealed that approximately 10% of flares were not lit or malfunctioning.
“This study adds to the growing body of research that tells us that the oil and gas industry has a flaring problem,” Jon Goldstein, EDF’s senior director of regulatory and legislative affairs, said Thursday. “The Environmental Protection Agency and Bureau of Land Management should implement solutions that can help to end the practice of routine flaring.”
The research was published just a day after two congressmen introduced it. billIt would direct the U.S. Department of Energy and other government agencies to collaborate with industry and local governments to reduce methane emission. Additionally, it would establish a DOE consortium focused on leak repair and detection (LDAR).
“2021 saw the highest annual growth rate for methane emissions to date,” notedRep. Sean Casten (D.Ill.), who co-sponsors the legislation with Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Mich. “This problem is not slowing down and will only increase without action.”
“The Methane Emissions Mitigation Research and Development Act supports innovative LDAR technologies that are needed to dramatically reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry,” Casten added. “We must ensure the Department of Energy has the necessary resources to produce the best possible methane reduction technologies.”
The new study comes amid finger-pointing over the apparent sabotage of the Nord Stream pipeline system, which could result in the biggest recorded release of methane emissions — an incident that led at least one climate scientist to call for whoever is responsible to be charged with war crimes.
Given the gas’ global heating potential, United Nations Environment Program Executive Director Inger Andersen said in a statement about a May 2021 report that “cutting methane is the strongest lever we have to slow climate change over the next 25 years.”
A few months later, the leaders of the United States as well as the European Union were in their final moments. unveiled a global pledge to reduce methane emissions at least 30% by 2030 — which climate campaigners welcomed while also warning that it does not go nearly far enough.
The Parties to the Paris Agreement are scheduled to meet in Egypt for COP27, an annual U.N. conference. Climate Conference. Last week, the majority of governments were in agreement about how that event would go. missedThis is the deadline for them to revise their emission reduction pledges.