Energy Giants Rapidly Cutting Methane Emissions

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Eagle Ford shale operations. Image: Repsol

It’s not just Canadian oil and gas operators who are focused on cutting methane emissions — the world’s biggest energy companies are also targeting major reduction across their portfolios as a quick route to reducing overall GHG emissions.

The short-lived nature of the gas in the atmosphere and the large scope for cost-effective abatement makes it an easy, and important, win.

“Methane emissions are avoidable; the solutions are proven and even profitable in many cases. And the benefits in terms of avoided near-term warming are huge,” says International Energy Agency executive director Fatih Birol.

Almost all oil and gas majors are targeting reductions — but who is making the fastest progress?

European focus

European Union-based supermajors with global operations have now reported their 2022 Scope 1 methane emissions data, which are monitored and recorded by Evaluate Energy. The firms also separately publish methane intensity data, which measures methane emitted relative to overall production.

Spanish firm Repsol has made the most progress, reducing emissions in 2022 to 28 kt, less than 16 per cent of the 180 kt it was emitting in 2019.

The firm has pursued three lines of action: implementing more precise technologies for emissions detection, applying reduction technologies such as a new breed of membranes at its offshore assets, and shifting to a lower-emissions portfolio. But Repsol’s methane intensity figure is still at 0.23 per cent — the highest of all EU referenced firms — largely because of less overall natural gas in its production mix.

BP plc has also made good progress, reducing emissions in 2022 to 30 kt in 2022, 30 per cent of its 2019 levels. Variations in production and divestments accounted for approximately 85 per cent of the absolute reductions BP reported for 2022, and sustainable emission reductions accounted for 14 per cent.

BP has evolved a mix of reduction measures targeting fugitive emissions, reducing combustion and flaring, as well as sourcing a greater proportion of production from lower-intensity operations. The firm has a goal to install methane measurement equipment at all its existing major oil and gas processing sites by 2023, publish the data, and then drive a further 50 per cent reduction in the measured methane intensity of its operations from its already low level of 0.05 per cent in 2022.

Shell plc has reduced emissions to 40 kt in 2022, around 44 per cent of its 2019 levels. The firm has committed to eliminate routine gas flaring from its upstream operated assets by 2025 — a target it has brought forward from 2030. It has also made reductions by overhauling maintenance schedules and replacing actuators that automatically vent methane into the atmosphere. Like BP, Shell’s methane intensity was at 0.05 per cent in 2022.

TotalEnergies SE has reduced methane emissions to 42 kt in 2022, 43 per cent of its 2019 levels. The firm has launched a worldwide drone-based emissions detection scheme across all its upstream operated sites and had already halved emissions at operated sites between 2010 and 2020 by reducing flaring, venting, and targeting fugitive emissions, as well as introducing stricter design criteria for new facilities. The company said its methane intensity is below 0.1 per cent across its operated facilities since 2020, and it has a target to keep it below that level.

Equinor has reduced methane emissions to 60 per cent of 2019 levels at 11 kt in 2022. Although its reductions in the last four years are lower than other firms, it started from the lowest baseline in 2019, meaning in 2022 it had the smallest volume of methane emissions and the lowest methane intensity at 0.02 per cent. The firm has implemented improved energy management initiatives, electrified its upstream assets where possible, and reduced flaring.

Eni has not yet published its 2022 data.

Global problem

All EU-based supermajors other than Repsol report emissions intensities below the 0.2 per cent by 2025 target set by the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI).

The U.S.-based supermajors have not yet published Scope 1 2022 data, but Chevron Corporation, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil Corporation together emitted 332 kt of methane in 2021 — 81 per cent of their cumulative levels in 2019. The EU firms mentioned above were together producing 63 per cent of their 2019 levels in 2021.

Big European oil and gas firms are making faster cuts to their methane emissions than their U.S. counterparts. Source: Evaluate Energy

In 2021, the Biden administration issued an executive order expected to reduce the methane emissions of the oil and gas sector by 41,000 kt between 2023 and 2035, and the recent Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) contained further measures designed to incentivize reductions.

Canadian producers collectively reduced emissions to 182 kt in 2021 — around 61 per cent of their 2019 levels, matching European progress over that time. Canada published a new strategy in 2022 to accelerate progress even further.

Globally, progress is slower. OGCI members committed to the 0.2 per cent by 2025 target are only responsible for around 30 per cent of global oil and gas production. Methane emissions from oil and gas operations rose to more than 82,300 kt in 2022, up on the past two years, although slightly below the record level seen in 2019, according to the latest IEA data.

Based on BP’s production figures and the IEA’s methane figures, the methane intensity of global gas production was still at 0.9 per cent in 2021.

China and Russia are two of the biggest oil and gas producing countries that still do not have a methane reduction plan in place — although China has said it will release one in 2023. Action from these two countries will be vital if the world is to see a peak in methane emissions this decade.

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