U.S. Oil/Gas Methane Emissions Science Tracker
This interactive database tracks the ongoing wave of scientific studies documenting that methane emissions from the U.S. oil and gas system are far higher than the official U.S. government counts and are growing.
The database provides a comprehensive catalog of significant studies on the methane emissions in the U.S. oil and gas sector, particularly studies since 2018 when the weight of the science on these emissions began to shift dramatically, as well as other studies relevant for understanding the global context.
Comprehensive View of Science Studies on Methane Emissions from U.S. Oil and Gas Operations
A wave of science over the last five years reports that methane emissions from the U.S. oil and gas system are far higher than the official U.S. government counts, all the way from wellheads to stove tops, gas-fired power plants, and LNG export terminals. In addition, this literature shows that methane emissions from the national oil and gas system are growing.
The literature reports that methane emissions from the oil and gas sector are twice the level stated by EPA and, in turn, twice the level reported by the U.S. government to the UNFCCC under the terms of the Paris Climate Agreement. This literature also reports that methane emissions from the oil and gas sector are significantly higher than the estimates in the academic literature of earlier years.
Because methane washes out of the atmosphere fairly quickly, modern era levels of atmospheric methane (1,900 ppb - compared to the pre-industrial level of ~700 ppb) are maintained only by massive ongoing anthropogenic emissions - to which the global oil and gas system is firmly established as a major contributor.
The tracker currently highlights over 100 studies published over the last 5 years as well as several older studies that provide important context or findings. Of particular note, Zhang et al., Negron et al., Chen et al., Ayassee et al., Yu et al., Ren et al., and Weller et al. provide extensive evidence that total emissions from the U.S. oil and gas system are significantly higher than estimated prior in the literature (e.g. as estimated by Alvarez et al. 2018 - which found emissions are about 60% higher than EPA estimates).
Recently, EDF released a study of 2019 methane emissions from the U.S. oil/gas system, updating the methodology employed by Alvarez et al. to account for the findings in the studies noted above. The updated EDF study finds that methane emissions from the U.S. oil/gas system are now twice the level reported by the EPA.
The EPA has not updated the official U.S. estimate of methane emissions, failing to account for the science going back to Alvarez et al. and even further. Instead, the EPA under the Trump Administration lowered its estimates of methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. To date, the EPA under the Biden Administration has maintained these lower estimates.
The surge in global atmospheric methane over the past decade (+125 ppb) extends and is built upon the modern era level of atmospheric methane - which, per above, is maintained in good part by the global oil and gas system. Most studies report that the U.S. oil and gas system is a contributor to this unexpected global surge in atmospheric methane. An authoritative assessment of the literature published in 2020 reports that methane emissions from the U.S. oil and gas operations are among the contributors to the recent surge (Jackson et al. 2020 and Saunois et al 2020) as does the IPCC WGI report published in August of 2021. However, estimates of the size of this contribution, from across the literature, fall across a wide range, with some studies indicating that U.S. oil/gas production is one of the primary drivers of the global surge, while others, particularly several more recent studies, find that global oil/gas production is only a minor contributing factor (e.g. Oh et al. 2022, Feng et al. 2022a, and Basu et al. 2022). Regardless of the size of its contribution to the recent surge, the global oil and gas sector, including U.S. oil and gas operations, is established as a major ongoing contributor to the modern-era level of methane which props up the surge.
A related issue is the scale of any methane emissions driven by climate feedback loops such as increased rainfall and/or rising temperatures. Studies on these “induced” emissions have been published indicating there may be an ongoing feedback loop. However, the uncertainty about these findings is extremely large - as highlighted by authors. There are conflicting studies. And the scale of the increase appears small relative to the size of industrial emissions - for now.
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