Climate Scientists Record Extremely High Methane Emissions Across the Gulf states of Mexico

A group of international scientists, including experts from Environmental Defense Fund, observed exceptionally high levels of methane pollution escaping from oil and gas facilities in Mexico’s largest producing region across the states of Chiapas, Tabasco, Veracruz and the coast of Campeche. The emissions were coming mainly from inefficient industrial flares burring off unused natural gas.

“When Mexican oil and gas facilities leak methane, they are wasting valuable domestic energy resources and polluting the climate and air,” said the study’s author and EDF scientist, Dr. Daniel Zavala-Araiza. “The amount of methane leaking at just one onshore facility we studied was enough gas to meet the needs of 50% of Mexico’s residential gas customers,” he added.

This study entitled, “A tale of two regions: Methane emissions from oil and gas production in offshore/onshore Mexico” published in Environmental Research Letters, highlights crucial emission reporting discrepancies that impacts Mexico’s ability to secure energy savings through improved energy efficiency measures.

While emissions measured from onshore processing facilities were 10 times higher than the Mexican inventory reports, surveys of offshore oil rig emissions were inversely 10 times lower. The data suggests that the gas produced efficiently offshore is piped to inefficient land-based facilities where it is later flared or leaked.

Methane emissions contribute to air pollution and are a powerful global warming agent, trapping 80 times the warming power of CO2 per gram over two decades. Methane is also the main ingredient in natural gas, which means these emissions represent an enormous waste of a sellable product.

Emissions data showed a total resource loss of 100 billion cubic feet of natural gas, valued at $200M a year, or 13 times the annual budget of Agencia de Seguridad, Energia y Ambiente (ASEA), Mexico’s oil and gas regulator.

In 2018, Mexico published regulations to establish clear industry standards for methane emissions reductions across its oil and gas supply chain, regulations that will help Mexico achieve the goal established in a trilateral agreement with the U.S. and Canada to reduce these emissions by 40-45% by 2025.

Measuring methane from above

Researchers used airplanes outfitted with specially-designed equipment to measure emissions from the facilities. Data was then compared with readings from the European Space Agency’s TROPOMI satellite in order to verify findings.

A single onshore processing complex, Nuevo Pemex, was observed to have greater methane emissions than the entire Gulf of México offshore production region, which accounts for 80% of Mexico’s oil production.

Better understanding the patterns and places where oil and gas methane emissions occur is a critical step to reducing them. The new study is part of a UN-hosted research series with the Climate and Clean Air Coalition that aims to uncover and accelerate methane reduction opportunities across the global oil and gas industry.

“Uncovering the reasons why such vast data discrepancies exist can help Mexico target proven gas capture methods to secure the economic, social and environmental benefits of oil and gas methane reductions,” said Zavala-Araiza.

Reducing methane pollution is vital for a healthy climate and healthy communities, particularly for people living near this development. Methane leaks are often accompanied by other pollutants that worsen air quality and cause respiratory problems and lung disease. Methane also accelerates global warming, which is destroying the coastal ecosystems that many Mexicans rely on for their livelihoods.

“Rarely are there issues like methane that present a winning proposition for all sides,” said Dr. Shareen Yawanarajah, EDF Senior Policy Manager for Global Energy. “Mexico should embrace a use it, don’t lose it approach to addressing methane and leverage its regulations to deliver on promised efficiency gains while protecting public health, the climate and fragile ocean ecosystems.”

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