Large Methane Leaks Soar 32% Despite Lockdowns and Green Pledges
Large methane leaks rose 32 percent in the first eight months of 2020, according to Paris-based data firm Karryos, as Reuters reported.
The rise in the harmful greenhouse gas is notable because it happened during worldwide lockdowns that led to drops in carbon emissions. It also happened despite pledges from the oil and gas sector to limit their carbon emissions.
Karryos, which analyzed satellite data to calculate the extent of methane emissions, says there are roughly 100 methane leaks happening around the world at any given moment.
"Such increases in methane emissions are concerning and in stark contradiction to the direction set in the Paris agreement," said Antoine Rostand, president of Kayrros, as The Washington Post reported. "Despite much talk of climate action by energy industry stakeholders, global methane emissions continue to increase steeply."
According to Karryos' data, in some methane hotspots, emissions rose 40 percent higher than over the same time frame in 2019. Those areas were Algeria, Russia and Turkmenistan. In addition to those three countries, the U.S., Iraq and Iran were the three largest methane emitters in the first two-thirds of 2020, as The Washington Post reported.
Methane does not stick around the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide, but it is a far more potent gas in the short term. In fact, according to Climate Change News, methane's impact on the heating of the planet is 84 times higher than CO2 over its first 20 years.
The technology to reduce methane emissions in the oil and gas industry is already available. According to the International Energy Agency, if the industry used current technology, it could lower its methane emissions by three-fourths in the next decade, as Climate Change News reported.
Rostand said the largest leak that Karryos was able to detect was in Iraq, which released 400 tons per hour. The leak extended 150 miles into Saudi Arabia. In the U.S., the largest leak emitted 150 tons of methane per hour, which is equivalent to 10 coal-fired plants running at maximum capacity, as The Washington Post reported.
"We see from the sky, not on the ground, but what we are observing is the wrong trend. We should have expected decreases ... but that has not been the case," Rostand told the oil and gas news site Upstream.
Fixing methane gas leaks is expensive and requires significant equipment upgrades, which the industry has been slow to invest in as its profits have plummeted in 2020 due to decreasing demand.
"It's a pure consequence of cost cutting," Rostand said, as Reuters reported.
The European Union has responded to the data and issued a new strategy Wednesday to address emissions from methane, as Climate Change News reported. The E.U. is the world's largest importer of natural gas and has the potential to make a significant impact in the regulation of methane emissions.
"The Commission will examine options as regards possible methane emission reduction targets or standards or other incentives on fossil energy consumed and imported in the EU in the absence of significant commitments from international partners," the strategy states.
So far, the binding targets for emissions reductions are still under consideration. They will need to be implemented and enforced for the E.U. to reach its climate targets and to achieve its stated goal of net zero emissions by 2050, according to Climate Change News.
According to the Clean Air Task Force, significant regulations from the E.U. could reduce methane emissions from the gas industry by 5 million tons per year, which is equivalent to shutting down nearly 120 coal-fired power plants, as The Washington Post reported.
"It is clearly time to reduce these emissions," Rostand said Wednesday, according to The Washington Post. "They are easy to fix. We have the technology to fix them." Without that investment, he said, "gas that leaks methane is as bad as coal."
Correction: This article has been corrected to reflect that large methane leaks (more than 5 tons per hour) rose 32 percent, not total methane emissions.
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
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