The global warming effect of record production in the Permian Basin, the world’s biggest oilfield, has drawn fresh scrutiny as methane spews into the atmosphere from its oil and gas operations.
The region’s emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, have come back into the spotlight as production rebounds to match the oil price surge from the depths of the 2020 crash.
New research has shown that large sources of methane emissions can be traced back to a few leaky pipes, wells, and plants. According to aerial data collected annually by the Environmental Defense Fund (and Carbon Mapper), only 30 facilities in Permian produce approximately 100,000 tonnes of methane per year.
According to Environmental Protection Agency figures, this is about the equivalent of half a billion cars polluting the near-term, or 1 percent of all methane from the US’s oil and gas sector.
Global warming can be slowed down by reducing methane emissions. Methane has 80 times as much warming potential as carbon dioxide over a period of 20 years. According to a UN report, the fastest way to slow down the planet’s warming is to reduce methane emissions.
The report found that agriculture and waste dumps were the main sources of methane from humans, while fossil fuel extraction was responsible for about a third of the pollution.
“Mitigating methane emissions now is the biggest down payment we can make on minimising impacts of climate change,” said Riley Duren, chief executive of Carbon Mapper and a research scientist at the University of Arizona.
“And the oil and gas sector is the most shovel ready sector for action: it’s all human infrastructure and most of the technologies required to mitigate emissions are well understood.”
The Permian Basin spans an area roughly the size of Britain, and it straddles West Texas as well as Southeastern New Mexico. It is responsible for two out of every five barrels oil that is pumped across the US.
Although output has declined in the wake of the 2020 oil price collapse, the oilfield now pumps more oil than any time in its history. According to the US Energy Information Administration (US Energy Information Administration), it will produce more that 5m barrels of oil in February.
Because of its prolific nature, the Permian is a major contributor to global methane emission. A recent report by the EPA states that Permian is one of the leading contributors to global methane emissions. Scientific paperAround 2.7m tonnes of natural gas is released each year through leaks in pipes, wells, and processing stations throughout the basin.
Methane pollution is being tackled. heart of Joe Biden’s climate agenda. Trump’s administration had scrapped rules for plugging oil and natural gas leakages. Trump’s administration has restored them. The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed new regulations that would reduce leakage from existing facilities.
John Kerry, the US special envoy to climate, hosted a meeting of ministers representing more than 20 countries this week. They also discussed national blueprints to reduce methane emissions. At the COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow, more than 100 countries vowed to cut methane emissions 30% by 2020 levels.
The Permian’s largest public oil producers have supported the methane crackdown. Shareholders are putting increasing pressure on them over their environmental credentials. But they are being pressured to live up their promises.
“There’s a very wide range of investments being made by companies to mitigated emissions,” said David Lyon, senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund. “[But] I don’t know if I would say any company is doing enough.”
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