Aerial studies detect dozens of methane “super emitters” in the Permian Basin

File image of an oil tanker operating in the Permian Basin near Midland, Texas, USA. May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Ernest Scheyder/File

By Valerie Volcovici and Nichola Groom

WASHINGTON, Jan 24 (Reuters) – Around 30 oil and gas facilities in the Permian Basin, in Texas and New Mexico, emitted large amounts of methane over three years, equivalent to the climate pollution of half a million cars, according to a report released Monday.

The facilities, which include exploration platforms, pipelines, compression stations and processing facilities, were identified as “persistent” emitters of large volumes of methane during three years of aerial surveys conducted by the Environmental Defense Fund and the Carbon Mapper research group.

These so-called “super emitters”, located in the most productive oil field in the United States, only represent 0.001% of the oil and gas infrastructure of the Permian Basin, but emit about 100,000 tons of methane per year.

This means that fixing those leaks offers companies an immediate opportunity to help meet US and international methane reduction goals and save an estimated $26 million in leaked natural gas, according to the report.

“The magnitude of emissions from a handful of methane sources in a major oil and gas producing region illustrates the opportunity to make significant near-term progress toward methane reduction goals set by the United States, other countries and companies around the world,” said Riley Duren, CEO of Carbon Mapper and a researcher at the University of Arizona.

The report shows that these large emission sources span a wide range of oil and gas infrastructure and operators in the Permian Basin.

Methane is the second cause of climate change after carbon dioxide. Their high potential for trapping heat and their relatively short lifetime in the atmosphere means that reducing their emissions can have a huge impact on the global climate trajectory.

The US Environmental Protection Agency last year proposed the first federal regulation on methane emissions from existing oil and gas facilities. Public comment will be received through the end of January and a companion proposal will be submitted this spring with measures for routine burning and smaller pits.

The United States also signed a voluntary global commitment on methane with a hundred countries, agreeing to reduce it by 30% below 2020 levels in eight years.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; edited in Spanish by Benjamín Mejías Valencia)

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