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2024: the year the world wakes up to methane emissions?

Published by , Editorial Assistant
Hydrocarbon Engineering,

Many of the countless stories focused on climate change all share a singular villain: carbon. Carbon – specifically carbon dioxide (CO2) – is central to the environmental conversation. Businesses market themselves to consumers as carbon neutral, technologies like carbon capture are touted as major breakthroughs, while phrases like ‘carbon footprint’ are part of cultural lexicon. This is good news for the fight against climate change, as CO2 poses a serious long-term risk to the future of the planet. However, this focus on carbon means that another emissions threat has – until now – slipped largely under the radar: methane.

Even the oil and gas industry, a sector forced to continually focus on and invest in reducing harmful emissions, appears to have overlooked the risk posed by methane given the continued prevalence of gas flaring and venting at sites around the world.1

Thankfully, there are signs that the world is waking up to this invisible threat. And the downstream oil and gas sector has the power to conquer this new threat – but it must change the way it thinks about methane leaks for good.

An invisible threat

Methane emissions represent one of the largest threats facing humankind today. Since the Industrial Revolution, this invisible gas has been responsible for approximately a third of the recorded rise in global temperatures.2 Without immediate action, emissions from human sources are projected to increase by up to 13% in the next six years, causing significant and irreparable harm to the planet.

In terms of trapping heat, methane is much more potent than CO2 and other greenhouse gases – but only for a relatively short time. When first emitted, methane traps roughly 100 times more heat than CO2. However, it also starts to break down more quickly, while CO2 can persist for around a century. Over the course of 20 years, methane traps around 80 times as much heat as CO2. Over a century, that number drops to 28 times3 – still significant, but its impact is blunted enough to allow mitigation to take place.

In other words, while methane emissions are dramatically accelerating the climate towards the 1.5°C warming threshold – beyond which scientists agree the environment would suffer irreparable damage – cutting emissions can reverse this course just as quickly.

Approximately 60% of all methane emissions are caused by human activity, and a third of this is produced by the energy sector through flaring, venting, and leaking infrastructure.4 Estimates suggest that halving these emissions over the next 30 years will be instrumental in meeting the critical goal of reaching global net zero emissions by 2050.

Urgent action is needed – and the world is starting to wake up to the scale of what is required.

Wake up and smell the methane

In December 2023, representatives from major oil and gas companies around the world committed to action that will cut methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030. The Global Methane Pledge (GMP), made at the COP28 summit in Dubai, UAE, promises a huge leap forward in the fight against climate change. Partners of this agreement have announced that more than US$1 billion of new grant funding will be allocated to support action against methane – more than three times the pre-existing funding levels – and individual action is ongoing to reduce the impact of these harmful emissions further.








This article was originally published in the April 2024 issue of Hydrocarbon Engineering magazine. To read the full article, sign in or register for a free subscription.

Written by Mark Naples, Umicore Coating Services.

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