IEA pulls up fossil fuel industry over failure to fix methane leaks

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The fossil fuel industry is failing to tackle methane emissions despite its pledges to uncover and fix leaking infrastructure, according to a report by the International Energy Agency released on Tuesday.

In 2022, the global energy industry released into the atmosphere some 135 million tonnes of methane -- a potent greenhouse gas responsible for roughly a third of the rise in global temperatures since the industrial revolution.

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Last year’s emissions were only slightly below the record high amount released in 2019, despite a backdrop of high energy prices and surging demand for natural gas that provided extra incentives to capture methane, the report said.

Methane is the main component of natural gas, so captured emissions can be sold as fuel.

Although some progress has been made, “emissions are still far too high and not falling fast enough -- especially as methane cuts are among the cheapest options to limit near-term global warming,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said in a statement. “There is just no excuse.”

The energy sector accounts for about 40 percent of all methane emissions from human activity, second to agriculture.

The IEA said methane emissions from oil and gas alone could be reduced by three-quarters with existing technologies and modest investment of less than 3 percent of the income gained by oil and gas companies worldwide last year.

“Oil and gas companies should spend some of last year’s record profits curbing their pollution,” said Rob Jackson, an earth system scientist at Stanford University. “We need to price methane pollution in the same way some countries price carbon dioxide pollution.”

More than 150 countries have pledged to cut global methane emissions by at least 30 percent from 2020 levels by the end of this decade -- although major emitters including China and Russia have not. Dozens of oil companies have also voluntarily committed to reduce emissions through the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership, and the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative.

“There are a lot of pledges around, but what you need is a forcing mechanism,” said Georges Tijbosch, CEO of MIQ, a methane emissions certification standard.

NOAA physical scientist Lori Bruhwiler said rapid cuts to methane emissions are important, but must come alongside deep carbon dioxide emission reductions if the world is to avoid global warming exceeding 1.5 Celsius and unleashing more severe impacts.

“Will this make it tougher for us to meet 1.5? Absolutely,” she said, of the consequences if countries and companies fail to curb methane.

The IEA report said there were more than 500 super-emitting events from oil and gas operations detected by satellites in
2022. Another 100 were spotted at coal mines.

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