Actual Methane Emissions From Offshore Oil Likely Much Higher Than Estimates, Research Finds
More and more studies are finding that reported estimates for methane emissions from offshore oil operations are likely far under the true amount of emissions.
Multiple flights over the course of 2021 detected methane gas plumes via infrared technology, with researchers noting more than 150 oil platforms near Louisiana alone leak methane more frequently than previously thought. Most of the emissions are from tanks and vent booms, and the methane loss rate from offshore oil platforms was around 23% to 66%, as reported by Reuters.
Another study from 2020 measured methane emissions of individual offshore oil facilities and regions of facilities in the Gulf of Mexico in January 2018, comparing their emission count to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Greenhouse Gas Inventory. The count was higher for emissions inventories in shallower waters compared to the official counts reported to the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory.
As reported by DeSmog, oversight and accountability isn’t where it needs to be for many offshore oil facilities, so emissions often go underreported. The U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) has even announced a need to improve inspection procedures for offshore oil platforms, following a confidential complaint, and plans to implement new training procedures for inspectors this spring.
Technology is also evolving to better detect methane gas leaks or intentional releases of emissions for offshore oil platforms, whose owners have previously argued that they produce far less emissions than onshore oil operations. Researchers have been able to detect and record more methane emissions for offshore oil platforms compared to reported emissions in recent years.
Emissions aren’t just underestimated for the oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. One study published in December 2022 by researchers at Princeton University and Colorado State University found a probable underestimate of methane for UK oil and gas activities, with emissions being as many as five times higher than what is reported. The researchers expect similar inaccuracies of reported emissions for other countries.
“Methane emissions from offshore facilities are currently largely uncertain, and because sources on facilities only emit for a short time period, using direct survey methods such as satellite or drones will probably only capture about 25% of the actual emissions,” Stuart Riddick, lead author and research scientist at Colorado State University, said in a statement. “To generate representative baseline emissions across the sector, we need to work with industry to develop practical, effective, and collaborative measurement strategies.”
Methane is the second most abundant greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide, making up about 20% of total greenhouse gas emissions globally. But this gas is about 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
“No one really knows how bad of a problem it is and something needs to be done,” Chris Eaton, a senior attorney for Earthjustice, told DeSmog. “Getting some methane regulations on the books is crucial and it should be done soon.”