Who is saying what about methane emissions [Making Sense of Methane]
An online media coverage inventory for “natural gas methane emissions” was compiled for a five-year time period between January 2014 and May 2019. This inventory, which focused mainly on mainstream, and less on niche media outlets, was carried out in several languages using different regional search settings. The results of this inventory show that the “natural gas methane emissions” issue is, at present, predominately a North American (principally US and Canada) and UK media story.
The end of 2015 and the great part of 2016, in particular, were big for media coverage of natural gas methane emissions. In this timeframe the Paris Agreement language was being negotiated – and eventually adopted by consensus – at the 21st Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The agreement, dealing with greenhouse gas emissions mitigation, adaptation, and finance was open for signatures starting in April 2016.
In addition to the Paris Agreement, in the first months of 2016 the Aliso Canyon, California gas leak spiked media interest in natural gas and methane emissions as they relate to meeting local, national, and global climate objectives. The leak, from an underground storage facility, vented almost 100,000 tons of methane into the atmosphere over a 16-week period and is said to be one of the biggest leaks ever recorded. As reported by the New York Times, the Aliso Canyon leak produced the same amount of global warming as 1.74mn cars in a year.
As natural gas production was increasing and natural gas prices decreasing, in July 2016, The Economist published two articles, “A Dirty Little Secret” and “Tunnel Vision: Even Natural Gas Needs to Clean Up Its Act,” calling into question the reputation of natural gas as a clean fossil fuel due to methane emissions all along the value chain. This same month the New York Times published “Future of Natural Gas Hinges on Stanching Methane Leaks.”
Last year, in June 2018, media interest in natural gas and methane emissions again spiked as outlets worldwide picked up on and reported on an Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) study released in the journal Sciences. In this study, EDF states that the US oil and gas industry emits 13mn metric tons of methane from its operations each year – nearly 60% more than currently estimated by the US Environmental Protection Agency. According to the EDF report, the volume of leaked methane represents enough natural gas to fuel 10mn homes.
Moving beyond mainstream media, over roughly the last five years, a number of internationally recognized think tanks, universities, and gas institutes have reported on natural gas and methane emissions. One of the most recent reportings comes in the form of an e-brief, Measuring and Managing the Unknown: Methane Emissions from the Oil and Gas Value Chain, published by the C.D. Howe Institute. In the e-brief, the authors, Sarah Marie Jordaan and Kate Konschnik, highlight the growing pressure on industry and policymakers to address the “unknown” factor in greenhouse gas emissions and propose a regulatory approach that remains open to new technologies.
In 2017, the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies published two natural gas methane emissions-related papers. The first, by Jonathan Stern, The Future of Gas in Decarbonizing European Energy Markets: the Need for a New Approach, flagged the risk that emissions of unburned methane in the supply chain could undermine the environmental case for gas. The second, by Chris Le Fevre whose work was previously cited in this series, Methane Emissions: From Blind Spot to Spotlight, concludes that though the issue of methane emissions is clearly receiving much greater attention, the gas industry is still on a journey. If the industry can build on the progress to date and deliver a clearer picture on the level of emissions and actions to address them, Le Fevre writes that the arguments for gas use in power generation become much stronger and the role for gas in a decarbonising economy more secure.
In 2015, DBI Gas-und Umwelttechnik GmbH, together with European project partners and under the umbrella of GERG (Group Europeen de Recherches Gaszieres), conducted research and published: Analyzing the Methods for Determination of Methane Emissions of the Gas Distribution Grid. The report states that a variety of methods for the estimation of methane emissions from the European gas distribution grid are in place; however, a consistent and transparent quantification of methane emissions across Europe is missing. In 2018, a follow-on report, Development of an Accurate and Consistent Method for Methane Emission Estimation from the Gas Distribution Grid (MEEM DSO project) was published. Both reports were supported by Marcogaz and Eurogas.
Industry, for its part, is pushing ahead through its leadership and investments and is achieving results. Going beyond safety and operational drivers, industry members are participating in voluntary programs focused specifically on reducing methane emissions.
Examples include: Collaboratory to Advance Methane Science – CAMS – (the group will pursue focus on scientific research and solutions to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas drilling through the refining and petrochemical processes); One Future (US member companies have set a target of an average rate of emissions across all of members’ facilities equivalent to 1%, or less, of total natural gas production); and the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (develop common methodologies to measure climate-related impacts and contributions and decrease of 20%, in 10 years, of combined greenhouse gas emissions from member companies' operations).
Other significant efforts towards methane emissions reduction are being taken throughout the global industry. However, there has not been a concerted effort to document, highlight and effectively communicate these efforts.