Image credits: @pemex
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News Article

Satellites Show Huge Methane Plumes Above KMZ

By Conal Quinn | Tue, 09/06/2022 - 18:28

Satellite footage obtained this week depicts yet another major methane leak from Mexico’s top-producing oil field cluster, Ku-Maloob-Zaap. The three satellite images, taken across six days between Aug. 5 and Aug. 29, 2022 display huge methane plumes mapped from space with high resolution. Itziar Irakulis-Loitxate, Scientist, the Polytechnic University of Valencia, estimated that some 44,064 tons of methane were released into the atmosphere during the time in question, equivalent to 3.7 million tons of CO2.

In June 2022, a peer-reviewed research paper by the same Spanish academic institution, of which Irakulis-Loitxate served as lead author, detailed satellite evidence of a previous leak from an offshore platform in the Zaap field in December 2021, which emitted 4Mt of methane across what was described as a “17-day ultra-emission event,” equivalent to 3percent of Mexico's annual emissions from oil and gas production. The study forms part of a wider European Space Agency-funded project to detect and quantify human-made emissions from space.

Methane is the main component of natural gas and is considered a much greater contributor to the greenhouse effect since it is twenty-five times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the earth’s atmosphere. Natural gas flaring, the process by which natural gas associated with oil extraction is routinely burned-off as a waste product, is not technically illegal. However, venting, or the releasing of natural gas directly into the atmosphere, is a direct violation of Mexico’s hydrocarbon law if not done for safety reasons. Irakulis-Loitxate noted that unlike in December, when PEMEX was “venting gas constantly for 17 days” when the flare was not lit, this time around the NOC had been “venting and flaring gas intermittently during the whole month.” From an environmental standpoint, venting is more polluting than flaring, since flaring results in the oxidation of the methane released through combustion to produce carbon dioxide and water.

This latest breach of environmental protocol has renewed calls for the Mexican government to do more to address methane emissions. PEMEX was previously ranked the most polluting company in Latin America and among the global Top 20. In June, following a meeting with US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, President López Obrador promised to do more to tackle methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. That same month, López Obrador also addressed the world’s major economies at the Global Methane Pledge Energy Pathway, announcing that PEMEX was to invest US$2 billion to reduce upstream methane emissions by 98 percent. 

PEMEX also reported this week it had allocated a total of MX$9 billion (US$450.25 million) to address 225 identified risks in its ESG compliance strategy between 2018 and 2022. The estimated cost to address all these risks has been calculated to exceed this figure. Moreover, in October 2021, PEMEX's Risk Committee initiated a three-year program to address further environmental risks. In this program, the NOC prioritizes the modernization of facilities, implementation of systems and mechanisms for monitoring and control of air pollution and acquiring the right equipment to deal with emergencies related to oil spills. President López Obrador has been criticized for ramping up the production output from Mexico’s state-owned oil company at great cost to the environment, as well as abandoning the ambitious targets set by his predecessor under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The data used in this article was sourced from:  
Reuters, Oil and Gas Magazinem Energía Debate, Natural Gas Intelligence
Photo by:   @pemex
Conal Quinn Conal Quinn Journalist & Industry Analyst