Methane pollution around the world plunged last year, mainly due to lockdowns, lowered demand and drops in oil and gas production because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, the International Energy Agency wants oil and gas producers and governments across the globe to take steps to make sure those numbers don't spike once the pandemic wanes. The IEA warns that oil and gas companies and government leaders must take steps to reduce emissions permanently and curb further methane pollution.
The IEA's methane tracker shows emissions from the world's oil and gas sector dropped about 10% last year, but credits that lower number to pandemic-related slowdowns rather than action to limit methane pollution. According to the IEA, 40% of the world's methane emissions and 70 million tons of the greenhouse gas came from the oil and gas sector last year. Methane release from U.S. oil and gas production in 2020 accounted for 16% of the world's total, which ranked second behind only Russia.
Methane, a principal component of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas. It is also flammable and is used as a fuel source. Other sources of methane emissions are natural processes and agricultural activities. The IEA has released a road map to help guide governments in enacting new policies to achieve a 70% cut in methane emissions from oil and gas by 2030. That goal aligns with the Paris Agreement on climate.
While the U.S. was the second biggest emitter of methane in 2020, the country's oil and gas production had a lower methane intensity than some other countries, including Russia. Methane intensity refers to the amount of gas leaked for every unit of production.
U.S. methane intensity last year was slightly higher than in Canada. The IEA points out that all major oil- and gas-producing counties except the U.S. and Canada require permits for companies to release methane or carbon emissions. There are also no federal restrictions on flaring or venting of methane but some states have enacted their own rules.
The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative is a coalition of nearly 30% of the world's oil and gas producers including Exxon Mobil Corp., BP PLC, and Chevron Corp., that supports methane regulations around the world with the goal of advancing industry responses to climate change.
While the previous Trump administration took action to rollback the EPA’s 2016 methane standards for the oil and gas industry, President Joe Biden has issued a directive for the EPA review that action, and his administration plans to propose new regulations for methane sources.