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Leon Kaye headshot

Methane Leaks Are Surging, a Global Body Blow for Climate Action

By Leon Kaye

Over the last couple years, we had the indication that energy companies were serious about addressing methane leaks – or at a minimum, were at least keen on disclosing them. Some energy firms here in the U.S. were even dismayed that the EPA under the Trump White House overturned methane regulations his predecessor had imposed.

But according to the Paris-based analytics firm Kayrros, leaks of this particular greenhouse gas are on the rise – big time.

This week, researchers at Kayrros mined data from sources such as satellite imagery and came up with a disturbing conclusion: Methane leaks have increased rapidly worldwide during 2020, at a much faster pace than the previous year.

The leaks are most apparent in nations that either have changed regulations in order to boost domestic production, are hosts to a lax regulatory environment or lack transparency – a list that includes Algeria, Russia and Turkmenistan. Overall, Kayrros’ number crunching concluded methane emissions are up 32 percent year over year.

“Such increases in methane emissions are concerning and in stark contradiction to the direction set in the Paris Agreement of 2015,” said Antoine Rostand, President of Kayrros. “Despite much talk of climate action by energy industry stakeholders, global methane emissions continue to increase steeply.”

Depending on the source cited, climate scientists say methane has a potency that is anywhere from an 80 to 90 times stronger than carbon dioxide. If the energy sector can’t or won’t get a handle on methane leaks, the climate action goals set by the 2015 Paris Accords could become impossible to attain.

Rostand explained that during 2019 alone, its technology tracked a total volume of large methane leaks of at least 10 megatons (MT), equivalent to over 800 MT of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

Kayrros attributes the increase in methane emissions to a change in operations at oil and gas extraction facilities in light of the novel coronavirus pandemic. It’s not a far-off conclusion: if regulators and workers are sheltering in place, the greater the chance such leaks can continue unchecked.

A decade ago, advocates for natural gas touted it as a “bridge fuel” that could help carry the global economy – especially here in the U.S. – until renewables could scale up and become cost effective. But renewable energy technologies have met that moment, and the growing scientific consensus about the toll that methane has on the earth’s atmosphere has largely minimized much of the enthusiasm over natural gas succeeding as a “clean” fuel.

Publications including Scientific American have pointed out that while the rapid switch from coal-fired power plants to ones running on natural gas first resulted in a significant decrease in emissions, in the long run, those carbon emission reductions have ended up being smaller than previously assumed.

At the same time Kayrros revealed its data, the European Union announced its intention to set stricter rules on energy firms’ reporting of methane emissions, as well as tighter controls on gas flaring, too.

Image credit: PxHere

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye