Significant “fugitive” methane emissions have been discovered streaming from oil and gas facilities across the UK, prompting calls for the Government to tackle the “lowest hanging fruit” in the fight against climate change.
Scientists have also found methane emissions from sites near the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow, a potential embarrassment as the Government prepares to host the event.
The findings come as the UK faces rising prices and a global shortage of natural gas to heat and power homes and industry.
Scientists estimate that cutting global methane emissions by 45 per cent could avoid around 0.3C of warming and some of the worst impacts of climate change, and buy time as nations reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 84 times more powerful than CO2 but has often been ignored in the fight against climate change because it is relatively short-lived, lasting only decades rather than hundreds of years.
But as the world scrambles to keep warming to 1.5C, from the current 1.1C, in coming decades, the focus has increasingly turned to the impact of methane, which is expected to be high on the agenda at the upcoming Cop26 conference.
The UK is backing a pledge from the US and EU to cut methane emissions by 30 per cent over the next nine years.
Methane is the main component of natural gas used to heat most British homes and help power its electricity, and is also released during the fossil fuel extraction process.
James Turitto, a so-called “methane hunter” from the Clean Air Task Force (CATF), an international NGO, found unintended “fugitive” methane emissions at 21 oil and gas facilities in the UK, including six of seven National Grid sites that he inspected. Invisible to the naked eye, the emissions are captured using an infrared camera.
Two sites, one in Chelmsford and one in Kings Lynn, were among the most significant emissions the CATF saw across 200 locations across Europe.
Methane accounted for 12 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 according to official figures, which Mr Turitto says may be underestimated.
The main sources are leakage from the gas distribution system, agriculture, waste disposal and coal mining, although it is declining from the latter as the UK phases it out.
Compared with tackling agriculture, where cows and sheep produce methane emissions that are difficult to reduce, stopping methane leaks in gas facilities is the “lowest of the low-hanging fruit”, said Peter Thorne, a scientist at Maynooth University in Ireland and a contributor to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports.
“If you capture these emissions and use them appropriately, fixing them is actually either a net benefit or effectively zero costs,” he said.
The National Grid said the methane release seen by the CATF was “primarily” due to maintenance activities, which it said it monitors and manages “aligned to industry standards for leak detection and repair”.
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