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Emissions rising as world pledges to cut methane discharges

June 27, 2022 Updated Mon., June 27, 2022 at 6:39 p.m.

The John E. Amos coal-fired power plant is shown in Winfield, W.Va., on Feb. 6, 2020.  (Washington Post )
The John E. Amos coal-fired power plant is shown in Winfield, W.Va., on Feb. 6, 2020. (Washington Post )
By Steven Mufson Washington Post

Kayrros, a firm that analyzes satellite data, says methane emissions from fossil fuels have intensified, rising faster than the rebound in oil, gas and coal production since the easing of the coronavirus pandemic – a development the firm called “worrisome.”

In a report issued Monday, Kayrros said methane emissions have climbed despite the launch of the Global Methane Pledge at the U.N. climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, last fall.

The firm said that “global methane emissions so far appear to be going in the wrong direction.”

“This is an alarm call for the fossil fuel industry,” said Antoine Halff, co-founder and chief analyst at Kayrros.

About 110 countries have signed on to the Global Methane Pledge, vowing to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas whose climate warming power is more than 80 times that of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years.

In the Permian Basin, the most prolific U.S. oil and gas basin, methane emissions in the first quarter of 2022 jumped 33% from the previous quarter, and soared by 47% from the first quarter a year earlier.

The increase in methane emissions outstripped oil and gas output, thus increasing the methane intensity.

The emissions in the first three months of this year also exceeded emissions in the fourth quarter of 2019 – before the pandemic hit.

Halff said there wasn’t a concrete explanation for the change in methane intensity, but he suggested it could come from the rapid increase in oil and gas drilling over the past few months, including by drillers who might pay less attention to methane releases.

The Kayrros report also said the number of U.S. natural gas super-emitters – the unusually rapid bursts of methane after a leakage incident – has jumped back to 70, the levels reached before the pandemic.

At the current pace, the number of super-emitters will reach 168 this year in the United States, with 59% coming from the Permian Basin.

Emissions also climbed in the Appalachian coal fields.

Production from the region’s coal mines fell in 2020 amid lower demand due to the pandemic.

But methane emissions were slower to decline then, and “as production started to bounce back in 2021, emissions grew faster,” the report says.

Production grew 13% in 2021, but methane emissions rose 20% in the same period.

“The rising methane intensity of Appalachian coal production means that its contribution to climate change has steadily increased even as its contribution to power generation has declined,” the report adds.

In the Marcellus gas basins in Pennsylvania and Ohio, Kayrros found that the methane intensity of gas produced declined after the pandemic hit but has returned close to previous levels.

The Kayrros report also looks at some of the richest fossil fuel reserves in other parts of the world and finds continuing leaks from infrastructure.

There have been 47 super-emitters in Turkmenistan this year through Friday – a rapid pace.

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