November 6, 2019
Methane hot spot (red) in New Mexico detected by a satellite from 2003 to 2009.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Michigan
Earth's temperature is rising to dangerous levels. Cutting greenhouse gas emissions is increasingly urgent. Although carbon dioxide is the major greenhouse gas, short-lived climate pollutants like methane are rapidly accelerating global warming in the near term. Methane emissions are on the rise. The global growth in oil and gas production and consumption is a prime driver. A new report released today by researchers at the Watson Institute identifies a multi-pronged approach for mapping and measuring methane and provides new tools to more effectively manage this super pollutant.
Under a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, authors Deborah Gordon, Watson Institute Senior Fellow, and Frances Reuland, former Brown University Researcher, assess the many ways that methane escapes from the oil and gas sector, both unintentionally and purposefully. Using a first-of-its-kind model under development, the Oil Climate Index + Gas, they estimate that oil operations are at greater risk for intentional venting and flaring of methane while gas operations pose a higher risk of inadvertent fugitive methane and accidental releases. The ability to focus detection and policymaking on the operators who bear direct emissions responsibility holds out the best prospects for methane reductions worldwide.
While governments, NGOs, and companies continue to improve their methods to pinpoint and measure methane, difficulties remain. Overcoming these barriers requires: increased transparency and data collection; improved oversight through monitoring, reporting, and verification; regulations and binding agreements; research and development (R&D) and technology transfer; and financial incentives and penalties. In order to offer durable climate solutions, efforts to mitigate methane must be designed to withstand future political pressures.
According to Deborah Gordon, in a Watson Institute podcast, "Methane is a stealthy gas — invisible, odorless, minute, and forceful — that is 120 times more potent than carbon dioxide as soon as it is emitted. Reducing methane leakage will not only prevent dangerous warming of the earth, it will also benefit the local environment and protect public health and safety."