Oil and gas companies underreported methane leaks, new study shows
Big oil and gas companies have internal data showing that their methane emissions in the vast Permian Basin “are likely significantly higher than official data” reported to the Environmental Protection Agency, says a new report by the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.
The companies should adopt tougher surveillance measures to detect and control methane leaks, especially giant super-emitters that contribute to the greenhouse gases that cause climate change, says the report.
“A very significant proportion of methane emissions appear to be caused by a small number of super-emitting leaks,” the report says, noting that a single leak experienced by one company may have accounted for more than 80 percent of the methane emissions that company reported to the EPA from its Permian oil and gas production in 2020.
The report was written by the committee’s Democratic staff using materials requested by Science Committee Chairwoman Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.) in a letter to 10 oil and gas companies on Dec. 2. Johnson said the United States could not achieve its goals for reducing methane emissions without a “swift and large-scale decline in oil and gas sector methane leaks.”
The companies were invited by name to provide information, but their results remained anonymous in the final report.
The committee, which will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. Wednesday on detecting and quantifying methane emissions in the oil and gas sector, zeroed in on the Permian Basin because it extends across 55 counties in West Texas and southeastern New Mexico and accounted for 42.6 percent of U.S. oil production and 16.7 percent of U.S. natural gas production in December 2021.
The committee report urged the companies to make greater and more accurate use of the leak surveillance equipment known as Methane Leak Detection and Repair, or LDAR.
“Oil and gas companies are deploying innovative LDAR technologies in a limited and inconsistent manner,” the report said. “Most deployments remain in the pilot phase with scopes that are too narrow to support emissions reductions on a timeline that meets the urgency of the climate crisis.”
One company told the committee that it relied on “lease operator training and in-person inspections (a.k.a. ‘boots-on-the-ground’ inspections),” which the committee report said could not be scaled up over a large area to solve the super-emitting problem.
“The point is brutally clear,” the report says. “The operator’s technology experts were warning that the technology’s biggest risk was not that it would fail, but rather that it would succeed — and in doing so, would find more methane leaks that the operator would then be responsible for, with all of the accompanying repair costs and reputational risks that might ensue.”