‘No excuse’: IEA tells energy companies if methane emissions rise

LONDON, Feb. 21 (Reuters) – The fossil fuel industry is failing to address methane emissions despite its commitments to expose and repair leaking infrastructure, according to a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) published Tuesday.

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

Last year’s emissions rose above 2020 and 2021 levels and were only slightly below the record amount released in 2019, despite high energy prices and rising demand for natural gas providing additional incentives to capture methane, the report said.

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

While some progress has been made, “emissions are still far too high and not falling fast enough — especially as methane reductions are among the cheapest options to limit global warming in the near term,” said IEA executive director Fatih Birol in a statement. “There’s just no excuse.”

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The energy sector is responsible for about 40% of all methane emissions from human activity, second only to agriculture.

The IEA said methane emissions from oil and gas alone could be cut by three-quarters with existing technologies and modest investments of less than 3% of the $4 trillion windfall oil and gas companies earned globally last year.

“The economic incentives to make those cuts last year were huge,” said IEA Chief Energy Economist Tim Gould. “We had record prices for natural gas in many markets around the world. There was an extremely strong economic incentive to bring methane to market.”

But despite this, “2022 has been a disappointing year,” he said.


More than 150 countries have pledged to cut global methane emissions by at least 30% from 2020 levels by the end of this decade — though major emitters, including China and Russia, have failed to do so. Dozens of oil companies have also voluntarily committed to reducing emissions through the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership and the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative.

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

NOAA physics scientist Lori Bruhwiler said rapid reductions in methane emissions are important, but they must be accompanied by sharp cuts in carbon dioxide emissions if the world is to avoid global warming exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius ( 2.7 Fahrenheit) and causes more serious consequences.

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

According to the IEA report, by 2022 there were more than 500 superejective events from oil and gas operations detected by satellites. Another 100 were spotted in coal mines. All told, the coal industry was responsible for about 40 million tons of methane emissions by 2022.

China’s methane emissions from coal are equivalent to the total CO2 emissions of all of sub-Saharan Africa,” Gould said.

Reportage by Gloria Dickie in London and Kate Abnett in Brussels; additional reporting by Shadia Nasralla and Ron Bousso in London; edited by Barbara Lewis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Principles of Trust.


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