62 Oil and Gas Companies Pledge to Reduce Methane, U.S. Companies Turn the Other Way

Methane Flare, Harris County, Texas      Photo: Jim Evans, Wikimedia CC

By Amy Lupica, ODP Contributing Writer

This week, following a U.N. report showing that methane levels in the atmosphere are at an all-time high, more than 60 oil and gas companies joined a new voluntary agreement to report and reduce their emissions. The companies making the pledge represent 30% of global oil and gas operations, but none of them were American. The organizers of the pact — the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the UN Environment Programme, the European Commission, and the Climate & Clean Coalition — hope to swiftly and significantly reduce the amount of methane in the atmosphere.  The new agreement replaces a 2014 version that had only 10 member companies. Global oil and gas giants like BP and Shell signed onto the agreement along with smaller oil companies from across the globe.

Why This Matters: According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the global oil and gas industry produced 82 gigatons of methane in 2019 alone. Although more carbon dioxide is produced by the industry each year, methane is much more potent and 36 times more powerful at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, elevating atmospheric temperatures rapidly.  Participants in the agreement are required to work to reduce the industry’s methane emissions by 45% by 2025 and by 60-75% by 2030. According to EDF, reducing the industry’s methane footprint by 70% could reduce the overall global greenhouse gas footprint by 10%, which is the equivalent of taking every car in the U.S. off the road. All this begs the question — why did no U.S.-based companies sign up?  And it would be great to get oil refining and chemical manufacturing companies to join too.

 Big Problem, Simple Solution

The U.S. is undergoing a methane pandemic. Not only are American companies the largest producers of methane, but there are also an estimated 3.2 million abandoned oil and gas wells across the country, left behind by bankrupt oil companies to leak methane into the atmosphere. Companies have often refused to clean-up after themselves, or installed subpar caps that crack and continue to pollute. Additionally, the oil and gas industry lobbied the Trump administration to roll back Obama-era methane regulations and succeeded in August.

Experts say that when it comes to greenhouse gasses, methane is a “low-hanging fruit.” Methane emissions occur at every stage of oil and gas production but can be reduced easily and inexpensively by plugging leaks and upgrading outdated hardware. According to IEA, methane emissions from the oil and gas industry could be halved at a net-zero cost, but American companies have made it clear they still aren’t willing to play ball.

Missed Opportunity

Ultimately, the American gas industry’s lax attitude toward methane emissions may come back to bite them. Recently a $7 billion deal to import liquefied natural gas to France from Texas fell through after French authorities cited concerns about the lack of methane regulations in the United States. Just this month, ExxonMobil, once the largest company in the world, reported record losses, which many experts attribute to the company’s inability to shift toward renewable energy.

Mark Brownstein, EDF’s senior vice president of energy says that U.S. companies may soon learn that their reluctance isn’t worth being shut out of the future global energy trade. Methane regulations are on the horizon; The European Commission is adopting a tighter methane strategy and President-elect Joe Biden has promised to make strengthening methane regulations a day one priority. “Other companies are beginning to understand that having the data is what enables them to take control of the issue,” said Brownstein, “I think there are a number of companies who signed up [to the agreement] to get a head start on what’s going to be required of them down the line.”

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