Analysis from Ceres and Clean Air Task Force benchmarking the relative emissions intensity and total reported methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide emissions of more than 300 U.S. oil and gas producers finds dramatic variations between companies and basins. In the second year of this analysis, the highest emitting oil and gas companies had a methane emissions intensity nearly 24 times that of the lowest emitting companies according to the most recently available data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The second annual report, Benchmarking Methane and other GHG Emissions of Oil and Natural Gas Production in the United States, analyzes the exploration and production emissions of the largest oil and gas producers in the United States. It establishes a clear, consistent record by which investors, operators, natural gas purchasers, policymakers and regulators can compare producers’ performance in an industry where historically, voluntarily reported emissions metrics have been inconsistent and non-comparable.
The findings can help shareholders differentiate between potential investments, and can also inform regulators, lawmakers and company executives about the top causes of reported methane emissions, as well as which companies are disproportionately responsible for them. These findings may prove to be particularly important as EPA works to revise federal methane regulations this year.
New in this second edition are charts that track annual changes in emissions intensity, or the quantity of methane or greenhouse gas emitted per unit of production, for each producer from 2018 to 2020. The underlying data suggest that these shifts can be attributed to changes in operational practices, changes in corporate structure, or a combination of factors.
Emissions intensity varies even between similarly-sized operators in the same geographic area, according to the data, largely due to different equipment choices and operational practices. Pneumatic controllers were the largest source of reported production-segment methane emissions, making up 61% of the total. Fuel combustion equipment, including engines and heaters, was the largest source of total reported production-segment CO2 emissions, responsible for 58% of all reported CO2 emissions.
“Oil and gas producers are not equals when it comes to methane emissions, and this research makes quite clear that a company’s climate impact is a direct result of operational decisions within its control,” said Andrew Logan, senior director of oil and gas at Ceres. “The companies that are most able to effectively minimize their own emissions will be best prepared for a future zero-emissions economy. The findings of this report are a critical tool for investors, policymakers, and those in the industry themselves. Yet we are still not operating with full information – that’s why we urge all oil and gas companies to take responsibility for full emissions disclosure, for example by joining the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership 2.0.”
Methane is a primary driver of climate change, and it is more than 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over its first 20 years in the atmosphere. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that methane emissions alone are responsible for about half a degree Celsius of the global warming the planet has experienced to date, and methane levels in the atmosphere continue to rise every year. Due to its relatively short-lived atmospheric impact, reducing methane emissions is the best available tool to slow global warming in the near-term. As the differences in performance in the report released today suggests, there are already solutions readily available that can rapidly reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.
“This new report makes clear what experts have long known: There are clear steps oil and gas producers can take to reduce their methane and other greenhouse gas emissions,” said Lesley Feldman, Senior Analyst at Clean Air Task Force. “Some are taking those steps while others are not, and federal and state regulations are key to ensuring we can standardize best practices across the industry.”
The report is informed by data companies are required to submit to EPA and is not intended to account for orphan wells or abnormal process conditions (also known as “super-emitters”), which are major contributors to total emissions. Rather, it is designed to provide an analysis of publicly available, equipment-level data that can be applied consistently across companies. Because abnormal process conditions comprise a significant quantity of total industry methane emissions, it is important that companies, and regulators aggressively pursue innovation and adoption of technology that will allow their direct measurement and remediation.
The report is a collaborative effort between Ceres and the Clean Air Task Force, with support from the Bank of America Charitable Foundation. The full interactive datasets are available at https://www.sustainability.com. ERM, which provides strategic consulting services to support the transition to a net-zero emissions economy — performed the analysis using data from EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program.
“Building on last year’s report, this analysis provides a valuable insight into oil and gas producer emissions over time,” said Robert LaCount, ERM’s Climate Change lead for North America. “The data can be used by a range of stakeholders to assess producer performance and guide decision-making as part of the transition to a decarbonized economy.”