Climate Change

Methane: Oil firms downplay greenhouse gas’ emissions, finds DTE analysis

While major oil and gas companies are reporting reduced methane, they are also actively exploring new oil wells and increasing production

By Tamanna Sengupta
Published: Thursday 30 November 2023
Representational photo from iStock

The oil and gas industry, while reaping record-high profits in 2022, has fallen short in its efforts to address its significant contribution to global methane emissions. Despite setting ambitious climate pledges, companies continue to prioritise exploration and production expansion over meaningful methane reduction measures.

The sector accounts for nearly a quarter of the global emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas with a warming effect 25 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period. In 2022, methane emissions from oil and gas operations reached a record high, highlighting the urgency for the industry to adopt effective mitigation strategies.

To understand the sector and its pledges, Down To Earth analysed 10 oil and gas companies with the highest production in 2022. The 10 companies are distributed across six countries, with the US hosting the highest number.

Nine of these companies — barring Valero Energy Corporation of the US — have voluntary greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. Six of them (Saudi Aramco, British Petroleum, Chevron, China National Petroleum Corporation [owns PetroChina], Exxon Mobil and Total Energies) are signatories to the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI) to bring methane intensity to Near-Zero by 2030.

The pledges, though, lack specificity and fail to address the full scope of the problem. For instance, several companies focus solely on methane intensity targets, which measure methane emissions as a percentage of natural gas produced. While this metric can be useful, it does not account for absolute emissions levels, which can increase even with declining methane intensity if production volumes rise— a real fear given the fact that most companies continue to explore new wells.

A recent UN analysis revealed discrepancies between the reported methane emissions of the 10 major companies and their actual emissions. The reported annual methane emissions of these companies were a mere 1.3 million tonnes, while estimates suggest that the actual figure lies between 80 and 140 million tonnes per year. This underreporting stems from the fact that most companies fail to account for methane leakages from their supply chains and the end-use consumption of their fossil fuel products. Paradoxically, nine out of 10 companies included in the analysis appear to comply with the OGCI target on paper, despite their significantly lower reported emissions compared to actual estimates.

The most viable path to controlling methane is to pledge a complete phase out of fossil fuels and a stop to further explorations. At the 28th Conference of Parties in Dubai, the hope is for a phaseout of all fossil fuels including coal, oil and gas to be agreed upon. Till then, the goal to limit global temperature rise to under 1.5°C will remain out of reach.

This was first published in the 1-15 December, 2023 print edition of Down To Earth

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