World methane emissions are heading in the wrong direction, study says

Kayrros, a firm that analyzes satellite data, says methane emissions from fossil fuels have intensified, rising faster than the rebound in oil, gas and coal production since the easing of the coronavirus pandemic — a development the firm called “worrisome.”

In a report issued Monday, Kayrros said methane emissions have climbed despite the launch of the Global Methane Pledge at the U.N. climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, last fall. The firm said that “global methane emissions so far appear to be going in the wrong direction.”

“This is an alarm call for the fossil fuel industry,” said Antoine Halff, co-founder and chief analyst at Kayrros.

About 110 countries have signed on to the Global Methane Pledge, vowing to cut methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas whose climate warming power is more than 80 times that of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years.

In the Permian Basin, the most prolific U.S. oil and gas basin, methane emissions in the first quarter of 2022 jumped 33 percent from the previous quarter, and soared by 47 percent from the first quarter a year earlier. The increase in methane emissions outstripped oil and gas output, thus increasing the methane intensity.

The emissions in the first three months of this year also exceeded emissions in the fourth quarter of 2019 — before the pandemic hit.

Halff said there wasn’t a concrete explanation for the change in methane intensity, but he suggested it could come from the rapid increase in oil and gas drilling over the past few months, including by drillers who might pay less attention to methane releases.

The Kayrros report also said the number of U.S. natural gas super-emitters — the unusually rapid bursts of methane after a leakage incident — has jumped back to 70, the levels reached before the pandemic. At the current pace, the number of super-emitters will reach 168 this year in the United States, with 59 percent coming from the Permian Basin.

Emissions also climbed in the Appalachian coal fields. Production from the region’s coal mines fell in 2020 amid lower demand because of the pandemic. But methane emissions were slower to decline then, and “as production started to bounce back in 2021, emissions grew faster,” the report says. Production grew 13 percent in 2021, but methane emissions rose 20 percent in the same period.

“The rising methane intensity of Appalachian coal production means that its contribution to climate change has steadily increased even as its contribution to power generation has declined,” the report adds.
In the Marcellus gas basins in Pennsylvania and Ohio, Kayrros found that the methane intensity of gas produced declined after the pandemic hit but has returned close to previous levels.

The Kayrros report also looks at some of the richest fossil fuel reserves in other parts of the world and finds continuing leaks from infrastructure. There have been 47 super-emitters in Turkmenistan this year through Friday — a rapid pace.

Many parts of the world have been shaken by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In Algeria, methane emissions from the Hassi R’Mel gas basin “rose significantly” in the six months ended in March. Kayrros blamed “old, leaky equipment” that is poorly suited to meet European demand for increased volumes of Algerian gas to replace Russian gas.