IEA (2023), Global Methane Tracker 2023, IEA, Paris https://www.iea.org/reports/global-methane-tracker-2023, Licence: CC BY 4.0
Methane emissions from the global energy sector rose to nearly 135 Mt in 2022
We estimate that the global energy sector was responsible for nearly 135 million tonnes of methane emissions in 2022, a slight rise from the amount in 2021. Coal, oil and natural gas operations are each responsible for around 40 Mt of emissions and nearly 5 Mt of leaks from end-use equipment. Around 10 Mt of emissions comes from the incomplete combustion of bioenergy, largely from the traditional use of biomass. The energy sector is responsible for nearly 40% of total methane emissions attributable to human activity, second only to agriculture.
There is a huge opportunity to cut methane emissions from the energy sector. We estimate that around 70% of methane emissions from fossil fuel operations could be reduced with existing technology. In the oil and gas sector, emissions can be reduced by over 75% by implementing well-known measures such as leak detection and repair programmes and upgrading leaky equipment. In the coal sector, more than half of methane emissions could be cut by making the most of coal mine methane utilisation, or by flaring or oxidation technologies when energy recovery is not viable.
Tackling emissions from fossil fuels is not the only opportunity to cut methane emissions. Achieving universal access to clean cooking and modern heating would cut emissions from the incomplete combustion of bioenergy and bring numerous benefits for human health and well-being.
Elevated natural gas prices in 2022 were not enough to drive deep methane reductions
Methane emissions from fossil fuel operations rose to more than 120 Mt in 2022, slightly below the record level seen in 2019. However, increasing efforts to curtail emissions led to a reduction in the amount of methane that was emitted per unit of energy produced globally. Emissions from very large leaks detected by satellite fell by almost 10% in 2022 from the levels detected in 2021 and preliminary estimates indicate that there was also a reduction in natural gas flaring globally.
We estimate that the global average methane intensity of oil and gas production has fallen by around 5% since 2019. Nonetheless, the emissions intensity of production is still far too high and overall emissions are still rising, highlighting that the oil and gas industry needs to move beyond intensity targets and adopt a zero-tolerance approach.
Methane abatement is very cost-effective in the oil and gas sector. Based on average natural gas prices from 2017 to 2021, we estimate that around 40% of methane emissions from oil and gas operations could be avoided at no net cost because the outlays for the abatement measures are less than the market value of the additional gas that is captured. Based on the record gas prices seen around the world in 2022, we estimate that about 80% of the options to reduce emissions from oil and gas operations worldwide could be implemented at no net cost. Around USD 100 billion in investment is required to 2030 to deploy all methane abatement measures in the oil and gas sector. This is less than 3% of the net income received by the oil and gas industry in 2022.
Methane and flaring need to be tackled in tandem
Stopping all non-emergency flaring and venting is the single most impactful measure countries can take to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations. There should be minimal methane emissions from a flare if it is designed, maintained and operated correctly but this is not always the case. There are also occasions when flares are totally extinguished, resulting in direct venting to the atmosphere of gas that should be combusted. We estimate that only around 92% of the gas volumes directed into flares around the world are properly combusted (in line with recent studies for the main oil and gas producing regions of the United States indicating a combustion rate of 90-92%). On this basis, we estimate that flaring results in more than 500 Mt of CO2-equivalent annual greenhouse gas emissions, including both CO2 and methane emissions (one tonne of methane is considered to be equivalent to 30 tonnes of CO2 based on the 100-year global warming potential).
More than 260 billion cubic metres (bcm) of natural gas is wasted through flaring and methane leaks globally today. It is unlikely that all of this can be avoided, but with the right policies and on-the-ground implementation on both flaring and methane emissions, an estimated 200 bcm of additional gas could be brought to markets. This volume is greater than the European Union’s natural gas imports from Russia prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Stopping this waste of natural gas would also reduce global temperature rise by nearly 0.1 °C by mid-century. This is the same effect on the global temperature rise as immediately eliminating the GHG emissions from all of the world’s cars, trucks, buses and two- and three-wheeler vehicles.