Methane emissions from the energy sector rose for a third consecutive year in 2022, coming close to their previous record level as energy companies are neglecting cheap, readily available ways to bring down their greenhouse-gas emissions, the International Energy Agency said.
The increase comes despite a year of soaring energy prices and as global efforts to fight greenhouse-gas emissions that drive climate change accelerated, the Paris-based agency said Tuesday.
The explosions of the Nord Stream pipelines, which saw greenhouse gasses bubble to the surface of the Baltic Sea over several days in late September, also added to the increase.
Energy sector emissions rose to 135 million metric tons in 2022, the IEA said in its Global Methane Tracker report. The increase is the third consecutive yearly rise and brings energy sector emissions close to their highest-ever level, which was reached in 2019.
Methane, a greenhouse gas much like carbon dioxide, is believed to be responsible for around 30% of the increase in global temperatures since the Industrial Revolution, the agency estimates. Methane doesn’t last as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide but contributes more to global warming, ton for ton.
Energy companies, which release methane as a by-product of oil and gas production or from coal mining, are behind 40% of human-caused methane emissions, second only to agriculture, according to the IEA. Cutting methane emissions is considering one of the most immediate and effective ways to limit global warming in the short term, the IEA said.
Coal, natural gas and oil production each accounted for around 40 million tons of methane emissions, while biomass was responsible for 10 million tons. Leaks from energy infrastructure such as the Nord Stream explosions added a further 5 million tons of emissions.
The rise indicates that energy companies aren’t doing enough to tackle the issues, despite cost-effective technologies that could significantly reduce their methane emissions and with it a key driver of climate change, the IEA said.
“Some progress is being made but… emissions are still far too high and not falling fast enough,” said Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA. “Especially as methane cuts are among the cheapest options to limit near-term global warming. There is just no excuse.”
Some 70% of methane emissions from oil, gas and coal companies could be reduced with existing technologies, such as steps to capture and sell methane gas or ensuring gas intentionally released is burnt rather than escaping into the atmosphere, the IEA said.
Similarly, oil and gas companies should invest more in identifying and quickly repairing unintentional methane leaks and upgrading outdated, leaky equipment. Coal miners, which release methane when seams of coal in the ground are opened, should invest in technology that captures and uses the methane gasses or burns it off.
A series of very large leaks of methane, including from the Nord Stream pipelines following a series of blasts, also contributed to the increase. While the pipelines’ rupture contributed a huge amount of methane emissions in one event, the amount released was still small compared to what energy companies release on a daily basis, the IEA said.
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