According to a new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), a concerted effort to limit flaring and methane emissions could make nearly 210 billion cubic metres of natural gas available to markets in need.
The energy security case for tackling gas flaring and methane leaks report by IEA notes substantial gas resources currently are being produced that do not make it to market because they are lost to flaring and leaks across the oil and gas supply chain.
“Reducing flaring, venting and methane leaks would offer more immediate relief to gas markets than investing in new supply, bringing a double dividend: relief for very tight gas markets and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.”
IEA estimates that nearly 210 billion cubic metres (bcm) of natural gas could be made available to gas markets by a global effort to eliminate non-emergency flaring and reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations.
Reducing emissions of methane, the main component of natural gas, is one of the best opportunities available for limiting the near-term effects of climate change. Limiting flaring to emergencies would also lower local air pollution and cut black carbon emissions, which is another contributor to climate change.
If countries that currently export natural gas to the European Union were to implement these two measures, they could increase gas exports by more than 45 bcm using existing infrastructure, equivalent to almost one third of Russian gas exports to the EU in 2021.
If all other liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporters – such as Egypt and Australia – were to do the same, they could provide an additional 8 bcm to global gas markets without needing to construct any new LNG liquefaction terminals.
Over 260 bcm of natural gas was flared, vented or lost in leaks in 2021 Over 140 bcm of natural gas was flared in 2021 and a further 125 bcm was vented or leaked to the atmosphere from oil and gas operations. This waste of natural gas is happening against the backdrop of tight and volatile gas markets.
“We estimate that it is technically possible to avoid over 70 per cent of today’s methane emissions and 90 per cent of flaring from global oil and gas operations,” the IEA says.
“This wasted gas could often easily reach markets: over 54 per cent of all flared volumes are within 20 kilometres of an existing gas pipeline.”
Also, with 2022’s high gas prices, abatement would generate global revenues of US$90 billion At today’s elevated natural gas prices, almost all of the options to reduce flaring and methane emissions from oil and gas operations could be implemented at no net cost because the abatement measures cost less to deploy than the market value of the gas that would be captured.
“If all the gas flared in routine operations during 2021 was brought to markets today, its revenues would amount to about US$60 billion. Capturing methane emissions could bring over US$30 billion.”
The ways to prevent flaring and methane emissions from oil and gas operations are known and cost-effective. These measures include installing emissions control devices, conducting regular leak detection and repair campaigns, and replacing components and devices that emit methane in their normal operations. If there are no connections to gas markets, companies can re-inject waste gases into oil and gas reservoirs, or use them for local electricity generation.
The Global Methane Pledge, launched at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), includes over 110 countries that commit to a collective goal of reducing global methane emissions from human activity by at least 30 per cent compared with 2020 levels by 2030.