Methane: A crucial opportunity in the climate fight

Cutting methane emissions is the fastest opportunity we have to immediately slow the rate of global warming, even as we decarbonize our energy systems.

It’s an opportunity we can’t afford to miss.

Methane has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere. Even though CO2 has a longer-lasting effect, methane sets the pace for warming in the near term.

At least 25% of today’s warming is driven by methane from human actions. One of the largest methane sources is the oil and gas industry.

Why the methane moment is now

For many years, methane was overlooked in the climate conversation. But scientists and policymakers are increasingly recognizing that methane reductions are crucial.

Slowing today’s unprecedented rate of warming can help avert our most acute climate risks, including crop loss, wildfires, extreme weather and rising sea levels.

Atmospheric concentration of methane is increasing faster now than at any time since the 1980s.

Which means that now is the methane moment: Acting now to reduce methane emissions will have immediate benefits to the climate that reductions in carbon dioxide cannot provide on their own.

How can we fix the methane problem?

Until recently, little was known about where leaks were occurring, or the best way to fix them. In 2012, we kicked off a research series to better pinpoint leaks — and to find solutions. It is the largest body of peer-reviewed research on the issue.

A synthesis of the research found that the U.S. oil and gas industry was emitting at least 13 million metric tons of methane a year — about 60% more than the Environmental Protection Agency estimated at the time. The volume represents enough natural gas to fuel 10 million homes.

Today we have much better data on where the methane is coming from and how to prevent it. Ground-based measurement tools along with a growing number of satellites — including one being launched by our MethaneSAT subsidiary — are making it faster and cheaper than ever to locate, measure and reduce emissions.

In fact, the International Energy Agency estimates that worldwide the oil and gas industry can achieve a 75% reduction using technologies available today — two-thirds of it at no net cost.

Seeing leadership from the White House

As the world’s largest oil and gas producer, the United States has both opportunity and responsibility to lead the way on reducing methane emissions. The good news: Methane has become a key element in the reinvigorated U.S. climate strategy under President Biden. Other countries are starting to follow suit.

In a Jan. 20 executive order, the president pledged to reinstate and expand federal methane regulations for oil and gas facilities that were rolled back under the Trump administration.

A pair of resolutions, one passed in the Senate and one pending in the House, would speed the process, restoring widely supported methane pollution protections and allowing the EPA to move forward with ambitious next-generation standards for new and existing oil and gas facilities.

A closer look: Explore local leaks

Raising awareness about the scale and impact of methane leaks is essential to developing effective policy.

Our pilot project with Google Earth Outreach helps visualize the climate-damaging leaks found within local communities.

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Sources
* EDF calculation based on IPCC AR5 WGI Chapter 8.