The shallow-water discrepancies need further investigation, Kort added, since deep water facilities may be sending some of the oil and gas they produce via pipeline to others located closer to shore.
The University of Michigan study is the second to be published in a series of peer-reviewed scientific studies supported by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition’s (CCAC) Oil and Gas Methane Science Studies. The first study in the series also looked at methane emisisons from oil and gas operations in the Gulf of Mexico but used shipped based sampling. That study, by Aerodyne Research, Inc., took downwind measurements from 103 sites, including shallow and deepwater offshore platforms and drillships. It similarly found that a small number of sites (2%) were responsible for a large number of emissions (20%) and also suggested. It was published in Environmental Science and Technology in March 2020.
Helena Molin Valdés, Head of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition Secretariat, said the studies were important to help companies prioritize work to reduce emissions and help governments target policies that do the same. She also called for urgent action to reduce methane emissions.
“We know that oil and gas is one of the largest sectors responsible for methane emissions. These new studies help us understand the extent to which offshore operations contribute to this problem, something that was previously unclear,” Ms. Molin Valdés said. “We can and must move rapidly to reduce methane leaks and venting from the oil and gas sector. It is not just technically feasible, but because methane has commercial value, reducing these emissions can result in financial savings or be carried out at low cost.”
Ms. Molin Valdés urged oil and gas producing countries to raise their climate ambition by addressing methane emissions from the sector saying that the CCAC and United Nations Environment Programme would work with countries on ways to do this.
In addition to the Gulf of Mexico, extensive measurements of methane sources have also been done in the North Sea, Romania, Australia and over 10 European cities. These studies will be publicly available and easily accessible so a wide range of stakeholders – including civil society, scientists, companies, and governments – can use the data to make well-informed decisions and prioritize areas for action.
The University of Michigan team conducted its sampling in 2018 with Scientific Aviation using a small research plane with enough room for a pilot and passenger in the two front seats, as well as scientific gear where there normally would be two rear two seats. Tubes along the wings of the plane drew in air that was pumped to the equipment for analysis of the amount of methane included as well as wind speed. Circling a single platform gives researchers a better idea of how much methane that single source is emitting.