IEA finds that despite some progress, 2022 was a disappointing year for tackling methane missions
“Despite some progress, 2022 was a disappointing year for tackling methane emissions, despite the very high prices and evident commercial incentives” – Tim Gould
- Methane accounts for 30% of the rise in global temperature since the industrial revolution. The latest IEA Global Methane Tracker from the IEA estimates that methane emissions were 356 million tonnes in 2022.
- Of this, energy-related emissions were 133 million tonnes (37% of the total) – and rose in 2022 – despite obvious economic incentives. The oil and gas sector emissions are some 79 million tonnes (60% of all energy volumes).
- To get to net zero, we need to see a 75% reduction in methane from oil and gas by 2030. But methane emissions are not falling fast enough – despite increased visibility and commitments from over 150 signatories to the Global Methane Pledge.
- But excitingly, the report says, “stopping all non-emergency flaring and venting is the single most impactful measure countries can take to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations”. More than 50% of methane emissions can be reduced at no net cost. Investment will be required, but at $100 billion, that’s a small percentage of the $4 trillion earnings in 2022. And with just 3% of revenues, the majority of emissions can be abated.
- Executive Director Fatih Birol, therefore, calls for a major investment to reduce emissions, saying “there is no excuse” for insufficient action by companies and governments. Tim Gould says “it’s more important than ever that we see demonstrable changes in methane reductions”, adding “it will be increasingly visible from satellites, making it increasingly difficult for operators to hide”.
- “Now is the time to see real action”, and “efforts on super emitters must go hand in hand with reducing day-to-day operational emissions”, says Tim Gould. Let’s hope he is right – and companies act to reduce emissions, create value and accelerate the energy transition.
Our key takeaways
The IEA’s Global Methane Tracker is a critical and influential report. We highlight some of the most interesting insights – plus, we are delighted that not only was our work (and our flare tracking tool) highlighted in the report, but was also it was cited directly by Tim Gould, the IEA’s Chief Economist, in the launch webinar today.
Part 1: The current situation
Despite some progress, 2022 was a disappointing year for tackling methane emissions, despite the very high prices and evident commercial incentives of high prices:
Figure 1: Global emissions of methane from the energy sector increased in 2022 – despite the very high prices and clear incentive to monetise the gas.
These emissions are significantly higher than bottom-up country inventories – mostly because of underreporting. Yet much of the emissions of methane (from flaring, venting and leaking) can be solved today with proven technology, and create commercial value. The marginal abatement curve below shows that around half of all methane emissions have a negative marginal abatement cost at “historical prices”, but 75% can be solved at 2022 prices.
Importantly, almost all methane emissions from oil and gas could be abated at a cost of less than $15 per CO2-equivalent tonne. Solving methane is, therefore, considerably cheaper than many other forms of CO2-e reduction, including many (credible) CO2 offset schemes.
Figure 2: The marginal abatement curve for methane shows that 40% of methane emissions can be eliminated at no net cost at historical prices – but 80% can be delivered at 2022 prices.
The IEA flags that “stopping all non-emergency flaring and venting is the single most impactful measure countries can take to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations”. As the IEA report highlights, flares also emit large volumes of methane – through incomplete combustion, or “methane slip”. The IEA uses an average combustion efficiency of 92% – meaning that flares emit 500-1000 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions in the form of methane (figure ranges, depending on the Global Warming Potential of methane used – see our article “flaring’s billion-tonne methane secret: An under-estimated opportunity for decarbonization and revenue generation in oil & gas”.
Fortunately, tools such as Capterio’s FlareIntel Pro tool can help us to pinpoint flare reduction opportunities at the asset level. This is particularly useful to operators because (a) flares are significant sources of methane emissions, and (b) there is likely a strong correlation between high flaring and operations with significant methane emissions. A free version of our flare tracker is available at https://flareintel.com/#register.
The IEA has an interesting take on the role of super emitters … yes they are an important source of emissions (albeit 10% lower in 2022 than in 2021), but these are dwarfed by the day-to-day emissions from ongoing operational activities.
Figure 3: Overview of gas flaring by FlareIntel Pro, which incorporates data from the Colorado School of Mines
By reducing flaring, venting and leaking, operators can not only reduce emissions and create value, but also increase gas supply and accelerate the energy transition.
The IEA report called out not only a report by Capterio that highlighted that more than 50% of flared volumes are within 20 km of an existing gas pipeline (see our article “we must minimise flaring gas near existing pipelines”, but that flare capture opportunities exist that can be deployed quickly (see our paper “leadership on flaring in Egypt: Recent successes and future opportunities in the lead-up to COP27”)
With today’s energy crisis – and abundant focus on energy security – these additional gas volumes could make a material contribution – see below. We highlighted the tremendous opportunity to capture flared, vented and leaked gas on the borders of Europe in our paper “North Africa can reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian gas by transporting wasted gas through existing infrastructure” together with Columbia University.
Figure 4: Significant additional gas volumes can be brought to market by solving flaring and methane emissions, thereby improving energy security whilst also reducing emissions.
And countries are increasingly looking at their embedded emissions associated with imported oil and gas. This will become particularly important as concepts such as Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanisms come into force – eventually, on energy imports.
Figure 5: Imported emissions are increasingly critical to understand
We explore this challenge of imported emissions in our papers “why the EU should enact methane regulation for imported oil and gas” and “How the EU’s CBAM will impact energy imports from countries that flare gas”.
Part two: solutions
As the IEA Global Methane Tracker report highlights, there are many groups driving compelling initiatives, including:
- International Methane Emissions Observatory (IMEO) which inventories and publishes data on emissions from many sources
- The Methane Alert and Response System (MARS), from IMEO, which detects and alerts methane leaks in near-real time
- The Oil and Gas Methane Partnership
- Satellite tracking companies (in addition to Capterio/FlareIntel) including Kayrros, GHG Sat, Methane Sat, Carbon Mapper, etc.
- The Global Methane Pledge, with over 150 countries that have committed to reducing methane emissions by 30%
- The World Bank’s Global Gas Flaring Reduction (GGFR) partnership
Equally, there are several recommendations to reduce flaring, venting and leaking explored in the IEA report, including:
- Ensuring where flares exist that they operate with high combustion efficiency
- Better measurement campaigns (using on-the-ground, airborne, or satellite technologies)
- Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) programmes, and replacement / repair of control devices and leaking equipment
For more information on solutions for gas flaring (and, by implication, methane reduction) please see our two case study papers: “celebrating successful flare capture projects with independent data-driven evidence” and “leadership on flaring in Egypt: Recent successes and future opportunities in the lead-up to COP27”