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Biggest methane-emitting oil and gas fields could reduce emissions significantly


Aerial view of gas flares at Bakken field, US Photo: NOAA
About 80% of methane emissions from upstream oil and gas activities originate from conventional onshore fields, followed by shale or tight oil developments, primarily in the US and Canada, according to Rystad Energy

Photo: NOAA

Global methane emissions could be cut by tens of millions of tonnes within a single year – if oil and gas producers target the world’s top methane-emitting oil and gas fields, a recent study by Rystad Energy has found.

The survey, employing satellite detection and field-level data analysis on upstream oil and gas methane emissions, has revealed that more than 100 individual oil and gas fields, primarily located in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, contributed less than 1% of global production while emitting significant amounts of methane – nearly 100mn tCO2e in 2022.


Recent developments in measurement technologies, such as satellite imagery, show that methane emissions are probably substantially higher than earlier anticipated.


Rystad Energy has found that more than half of the global upstream oil and gas methane emissions stem from large venting and leakage events, with the remaining portion attributed to flaring sources, fugitive emissions from equipment and smaller venting occurrences. The Middle East and North America together account for nearly half of worldwide methane emissions from upstream oil and gas activities, followed by Asia, Russia and Africa.


By contrast, South America and Europe have relatively moderate methane emissions compared to other major producing regions in the context of upstream oil and gas. While Europe’s direct upstream methane emissions are low, the region’s significant reliance on imported oil and gas – constituting about 80% of its consumption – results in a substantial methane footprint. This forms the backdrop for the announced European Union regulations, which is an important step forward for tackling methane emissions in the global oil and gas value chain, the report notes.  


Some countries are dominated by large venting events, such as several North African nations, while others have sources that are more widely scattered and generally lower in volume. The US is an example of the latter, where widely spread emissions create a different kind of challenge and abatement and decarbonisation strategies need to be structured accordingly.


The report shows that methane emissions pose specific challenges across different supply segments. About 80% of methane emissions from upstream activities originate from conventional onshore fields, followed by shale or tight oil developments, primarily in the US and Canada. The remaining emissions come from offshore and oil sands. The dominance of methane emissions from onshore conventional fields is partly influenced by the extensive volumes of onshore production, comprising about half of global output in 2022, Rystad says.


In terms of methane intensity, onshore operations on average have significantly higher levels than other supply segments, while offshore production has a lower methane footprint than the global average, especially deepwater developments, according to the analysis. The lower volumes of methane emissions from offshore deepwater operations can be attributed to factors such as technology, scale and subsurface conditions. Modern offshore platforms often feature improved methane monitoring and equipment systems, resulting in generally lower leakage volumes. Additionally, deepwater fields tend to have relatively low flaring.


Rystad Energy’s research indicates that E&P companies belonging to collaborative methane-reduction groups have lower methane emission intensities from their upstream oil and gas activities on average. Analysing field-level methane emissions for companies that are part of the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative – 12 large producers accounting for one-third of global production – and the members of the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership, shows that on average they were significantly below other companies in 2022.