Methane Leaks Threaten to Undo Much of Natural Gas’ BenefitsBy Cas Biekmann | Mon, 08/02/2021 - 17:24
A group of researchers found that Mexico’s methane leaks are twice as high as those in the US, the world’s leading oil and gas producer. Methane is the largest component of natural gas, a fuel considered crucial for the energy transition. The harm it does to the environment threatens to erase the clean-burning fossil fuel’s benefits.
The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) previously found that 3.7 percent of the natural gas produced in Texas’ Permian Basin leaked in the atmosphere, enough to offset much of the progress Texas had achieved by switching from coal to gas for its power production. In the rest of the US, the figure is much lower, bringing the average down to 2.3 percent. Methane burns around 50 percent cleaner than coal, but is much more harmful when released into the atmosphere directly. While it is difficult to avoid, it is absolutely possible to erase methane leaks from existence. “There is no need for this pollution. It is just completely unnecessary,” said Steve Hamburg, Chief Scientist at EDF to The Scientific American publication. Technology to prevent such leaks has been proven to work and is easy to acquire, Hamburg pointed out: “There are cost-effective strategies for doing it. It’s about paying attention and making the necessary investments.” If captured, methane can be used to produce useful power instead of harming the environment.
Daniel Zavala, a senior scientist at EDF reports that 4.7 percent of the methane produced in Mexico is leaked into the atmosphere, an average twice as high as that of the US. Zavala notes that this is a very high average on the global level. “Cutting these emissions in half would have the same climate benefit over 20 years as removing one third of total passenger cars in the country,” Zavala told Reuters in an interview before the release of the official report. Using new technology, EDF can map these “alarming and worrying” leaks in ways that were not possible before.
The biggest culprits are within Mexico’s midstream sector, where natural gas is gathered, compressed and processed. The venting and flaring of oil fields are the two other major negative factors.
A UN report found that cutting methane emissions, which also originates from cattle manure and rotting waste, would effectively be the quickest way to slow global warming. Together with fossil fuels, these factors are responsible for 30 percent of global heating. Actions such as preventing leaks, capturing methane at landfills to use for power production and reducing livestock are therefore crucial strategies within the wider push to stop catastrophic climate change.