Global emissions of methane from oil and gas basins have showed a “worrisome” jump since the beginning of 2021, in some cases outstripping the rate of post-pandemic production increases, according to new research.

US-based geo-analytics company Kayrros, a specialist in analysing satellite data, studied emissions of the potent climate-warming gas in several onshore US basins, including the Permian, as well as producing fields in Iraq, Iran, Kuwait and Turkmenistan, and at the giant but ageing Hassi R’Mel gas basin in Algeria.

The research comes after about 110 countries signed up to a commitment to reduce methane emissions at the United Nation’s COP26 climate talks held in Glasgow in November. The initiative, led by the US and European Union, promised to cut methane emissions by at least 30% by the end of the decade.

Wrong direction

“While it’s only six months since the launch of the Global Methane Pledge, the overall trend in global methane emissions so far appears to be going in the wrong direction, as evidenced by recent developments in these major producer countries,” the report said.

“Given the high warming power of methane… and the short window available to significantly reduce emissions, the lack of progress achieved so far is a concern.

“The findings for [full-year] 2021 and [first-quarter] 2022 are worrisome.”

Methane has a warming power more than 80 times that of carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after it enters the atmosphere.

In the US onshore Permian basin, preliminary data shows methane emissions jumped by about one third in the first quarter of 2022 from the previous quarter and by nearly half year on year, averaging about 15% above pre-Covid levels.

The basin had shown substantial reductions in methane intensity in 2020 amid small average production gains, but emissions started bouncing back and ran ahead of supply last year.

The report said the increase gained momentum in the first quarter this year and “looks at risk of accelerating further” as drilling and fracking activities rise due to high oil and gas prices and calls for more production.

It was similar story in the Marcellus and Utica basins, two prolific US shale gas plays.

Emissions there fell steeply in 2020 despite a small average gain in natural gas production, but that decline began to reverse in 2021.

The methane intensity of Appalachian gas reached its highest level in the first quarter of this year since the third quarter of 2020.

Outside of the US, methane emissions were a “mixed bag” in 2021, the report said, with steep increases in Turkmenistan and from Algeria’s top gas producing basin.

However, there were apparent declines in both absolute emissions levels and methane intensity in Kuwait and Iran compared with 2019 levels.

In Iraq, emissions followed lower production in 2020 but bounced back with it in 2021.

In Algeria, a major gas exporter to Europe, basin-wide emissions from the giant Hassi R’Mel gas field fell slightly in 2020 but bounced back “with a vengeance” in 2021, the report said.

This growth has continued into the first three months of this year, reaching highs well above pre-Covid levels.

Hassi R’Mel is Algeria’s largest field, accounting for an estimated 90% of the country’s overall gas production.

The field is at the heart of Algeria’s hope to boost output and export volumes in response to growing demand from Europe as a replacement for Russian gas.

But, under current conditions, “the prospect of higher output inevitably raises concerns about the field’s large climate footprint”, the report said.

The results looked at what it termed “super-emitters” that can be detected and measured from space, as well as smaller leaks that may not register individually on satellite imagery but whose cumulative impact over time is measurable.

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