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Preprints
https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-2020-274
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-2020-274
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 14 Apr 2020

Submitted as: research article | 14 Apr 2020

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A revised version of this preprint was accepted for the journal ACP and is expected to appear here in due course.

Remote sensing of methane leakage from natural gas and petroleum systems revisited

Oliver Schneising, Michael Buchwitz, Maximilian Reuter, Steffen Vanselow, Heinrich Bovensmann, and John P. Burrows Oliver Schneising et al.
  • Institute of Environmental Physics (IUP), University of Bremen FB1, Bremen, Germany

Abstract. The switch from the use of coal to natural gas or oil for the energy generation potentially reduces the greenhouse gas emissions and thus the impact on global warming and climate change because of the larger energy content per CO2 molecule emitted. However, the climate benefit over coal is offset by methane (CH4) leakage from natural gas and petroleum systems, which reverses the climate impact mitigation if the rate of fugitive emissions exceeds the compensation point at which the global warming resulting from the leakage and the benefit from the reduction of coal combustion coincide. Consequently, an accurate quantification of the CH4 emissions from the oil and gas industry is essential to evaluate the suitability of natural gas and petroleum as bridging fuels on the way to a carbon-neutral future.

We show that regional CH4 release from large oil and gas fields can be monitored from space by using dense daily recurrent measurements of the TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI) onboard the Sentinel-5 Precursor satellite to quantify emissions and leakage rates. The average emissions for the time period 2018/2019 from the five most productive basins in the United States, the Permian, Appalachia, Eagle Ford, Bakken, and Anadarko are estimated to be 3.16 ± 1.13 Mt yr−1, 2.36 ± 0.88 Mt yr−1, 1.52 ± 0.68 Mt yr−1, 0.89 ± 0.56 Mt yr−1, and 2.81 ± 0.77 Mt yr−1, respectively. This corresponds to CH4 leakage rates relative to the associated production between 1.2 % and 1.6 % for the first four production regions, which are consistent with bottom-up estimates and likely fall below the break-even leakage rate for immediate climate benefit. For the Anadarko Basin, the fugitive emission rate is larger and amounts to 4.0 ± 1.1 %, which likely exceeds the break-even rate for immediate benefit and roughly corresponds to the break-even rate for a 20-year time horizon. The determined values are smaller than previously derived satellite-based leakage rates for the time period 2009–2011, which was an early phase of hydraulic fracturing, indicating that it is possible to improve the climate footprint of the oil and gas industry by adopting new technologies and that the efforts to reduce the methane emissions have been successful. For two of the world's largest natural gas fields Galkynysh and Dauletabad in Turkmenistan, we find collective methane emissions of 3.23 ± 1.17 Mt yr−1, which corresponds to a leakage rate of 4.1 ± 1.5 % suggesting that the Turkmen energy industry has not the technological standards concerning avoidance of emissions than the United States average. Together with the high leakage rate for the Anadarko Basin, this indicates that there is potential to reduce fugitive methane emissions from natural gas and petroleum systems worldwide. In particular, relatively newly developed oil and gas plays appear to have larger leakage rates in contrast to more mature production areas.

Oliver Schneising et al.

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Interactive discussion

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Status: closed
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Oliver Schneising et al.

Oliver Schneising et al.

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Short summary
The switch from the use of coal to natural gas or oil for the energy generation potentially reduces the impact on global warming due to less CO2 emissions at the same energy content. However, this climate benefit is offset by fugitive methane emissions during the production and distribution process. We quantify the emissions and leakage rates relative to production for several large production regions based on satellite observations to evaluate the climate footprint of the gas and oil industry.
The switch from the use of coal to natural gas or oil for the energy generation potentially...
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