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Targeting methane emissions in the oil and gas sector is the fastest, most cost-effective way to slow global warming in the short term while improving — and even saving — millions of lives from air pollution as the world transitions to a clean energy future. This is why the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) has worked in this sector since 2012.
Fossil fuel production is responsible for 35 per cent of human-caused methane emissions. The CCAC-UNEP Global Methane Assessment found that oil and gas extraction, processing, and distribution are responsible for 23 percent. There is, however, increasing evidence that methane emission estimates from the oil and gas industry are significantly underestimated. A recent study by IEA that suggests it could be undercounted by as much as 70 per cent.
The CCAC has an important role to play in this sector. 43 of its partner countries are gas-producing, including five in the top ten highest producers. The CCAC launched the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership in 2014 to help countries set a new standard for methane emissions reporting and performance. In 2016, through the CCAC’s Marrakech Communique, countries committed to reducing methane emissions from oil and gas operations to rapidly slow global warming and protect health by improving global air quality. One study found that in the United States alonethat air pollution from the oil and gas industry is responsible for 1,970 premature deaths, 1.1 million asthma attacks, and 770,000 lost school days for children each year.
As the fossil fuel sector is the one in which we can make the biggest reductions with the lowest financial and behavioural change barriers, we need to reduce emissions greatly this decade to have a chance at bringing methane emissions as a whole down to levels compatible with 1.5°C targets.Drew Shindell
“One of the CCAC’s major achievements is raising the profile of methane as an important driver of climate change and surface ozone pollution, and one for which there are economically attractive existing mitigation options,” said Drew Shindell, the CCAC's Special Advisor for Action on Methane and Scientific Advisory Panel Chair. “The fossil fuel sector is the one in which we can make the biggest reductions with the lowest financial and behavioural change barriers. We need to reduce emissions greatly this decade to have a chance at bringing methane emissions as a whole down to levels compatible with 1.5°C targets.”
These actions include detecting and repairing leaks so that methane doesn’t escape into the atmosphere and capturing gas that is vented from oil wells and recovering it for use.
“I’ve worked on a lot of issues related to climate over the years but methane in the oil and gas sector is the easiest thing we could do on climate — it’s not rocket science, it’s plumbing,” said Jonathan Banks, the International Director of Methane at the Clean Air Task Force (CATF). “A lot of the stuff that needs to be done is by someone with a wrench who needs to fix and tighten up things. It’s often not difficult stuff to do.”
Using modern technology to regularly inspect equipment so that leaks are immediately detected and faulty or out-of-date pumps and motors are repaired, along with preventing gas leakage during transmission and distribution, could reduce emissions from coal mining and the oil and gas sector by over 65 percent.
“Oil and gas is a significant portion of overall methane emissions and it has a discrete number of players and a discrete number of actions to reduce emissions, so it's easier to focus and to drive results,” said Dan McDougall, Senior Fellow with the CCAC Secretariat. “But these actions need to be driven by strong regulatory actions by governments.”
A critical area of the CCAC’s work is supporting countries to take policy action to regulate methane reductions through capacity building, trainings, workshops, and Peer-to-Peer Regulatory Support in the oil and gas industry. The CCAC partnered with the Center for Clean Air Policy (CCAP), CATF and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) to provide national assistance in several countries through a network of experts and practitioners to promote the adoption of regulations for the sector. The CCAC’s partners have already had major successes, including Mexico’s 2018 regulation to control methane emissions from the Hydrocarbon Sector.
The CCAC supported Mexico’s ASEA (Agencia de Seguridad, Energía y Ambiente of the government of Mexico) to implement the country’s ambitious commitments. This support includes helping ASEA develop better capacities for compliance and planning, as well as expert advising on implementation. The CCAC also helped with capacity building on data management, as well as inspection, leak detection and repair.
“The political commitment to mitigate methane emissions is essential and having that commitment from our political leaders is essential,” said Dora Lopez Llanes, General Director at ASEA. “It’s necessary to have an effective legal framework, not only to have an impact on cutting emissions and tackling climate change but also for sustainable development because when we contribute to tackling emissions we also contribute to avoiding catastrophic effects that climate change imposes on vulnerable countries and places within countries.”
The CCAC’s Marrakech Communique was a key demonstration of that political leadership, with many CCAC partner countries committing to take decisive action on methane emissions, specifically by reducing emissions from oil and natural gas extraction, transportation, and processing. Countries committed to doing so by developing and implementing national methane reduction strategies, regulations, policies, and enhanced actions — including those that regulate efficiency and fuel shifts.
Colombia also recently became the first South American country to regulate methane emissions in the oil and gas sector when it completed its flaring and fugitive methane emissions regulations. In Colombia, the CCAC supported an assessment of the country’s needs, targeted in-country workshops to build capacity to adopt and implement regulations for the sector. This work emphasised the importance of strict standards, measuring, monitoring, and detection of leaks in addition to national barriers to implementation, mitigation technologies, and enforcement.
“The CCAC Marrakech Communique in 2016 and all the commitments that Colombia has adopted in terms of climate action, have allowed the energy mining sector today to have a serious and strengthened commitment to energy transition,” said Lina María Castaño Luján, a consultant in Colombia’s Ministry of Mines and Energy.
That’s one of the great things that the CCAC and other organisations like the CCAC bring to this space: the ability to connect with policymakers and experts from around the world that can help facilitate movement on policy development in your own country.Asmau Jibril
Nigeria also participated in the peer-to-peer regulatory support process, not only to help them develop specific targets for the oil and gas sector for their Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) but also to convert that target into regulations. Nigeria’s NDC commits to cutting methane emissions by 60 per cent by 2031 — a goal the country feels confident it can achieve given its success in reducing gas flaring by 70 percent from 2000 levels through policy and regulation. The country plans to fully eliminate the practice by 2030.
“The issue of addressing methane is receiving the right attention, and we have the stakeholders on board from the government and the private sector,” said Asmau Jibril, Chief Scientific Officer at the Federal Ministry of Environment of Nigeria. “The government is committed to addressing its greenhouse gas emissions, especially as it relates to methane reduction in the oil and gas sector by building on its success from flaring.”
Nigeria’s successful policies include the Nigeria Gas Flare Commercialization Programme in October 2016, the National Gas Policy in June 2017, and a gas flare regulation in 2018 which increased flaring fines.
“That’s one of the great things that the CCAC and other organisations like the CCAC bring to this space: the ability to connect with policymakers and experts from around the world that can help facilitate movement on policy development in your own country,” said Jibril.
Nigeria has now established draft regulations that will be finalised later this year.
The CCAC’s Oil & Gas Methane Partnership started in 2014 with 6 companies and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), along with UNEP as Secretariat. It is an agreement that companies voluntarily sign on to, committing to improve their understanding of emissions across the entire chain of their operations, and then to taking action to reduce them. This consists primarily of the low-cost, high-impact strategy of detecting leaks and then repairing them.
Today, OGMP has increased to over 60 participants comprising 30 percent of the world’s oil and gas production. All companies voluntarily agree to reduce methane emissions in the oil and gas sector and use the CCAC-developed methane reporting framework to assist the oil and gas industry to both reduce emissions and then credibly and transparently measure those reductions.
If you go deeper into the oil, gas, and coal sector, we don't know which producers are releasing a lot of methane and which are releasing very little. With better measurement, reporting, and verification we would be able to make choices about who we buy our fossil gas from in the future — which companies and which countries.”Brendan Devlin
The OGMP 2.0, released in 2020, ramped up existing action by including more companies and committing to a broader scope of action encompassing not only their own emissions but the entirety of emissions along the supply chain, both upstream and downstream. This updated framework gives companies a way to prove that they’re contributing to climate mitigation, ensures accurate reporting, and encourages broader participation to achieve widespread emissions reductions in the sector. As the new gold standard for reporting methane emissions, it will improve accuracy and spur reductions worldwide.
The International Methane Emissions Observatory (IMEO) was spurred by the OGMP and established in 2020 to expand and improve Monitoring, Reporting and Evaluation (MRV) in the sector. Initially, it will focus on fossil fuel emissions, though it will expand to other high emitting sectors like agriculture and waste, to produce verifiable, public data about methane emissions. This data will allow IMEO to directly engage with companies and countries to identify and act on the most strategic methods for methane mitigation.
“If you go deeper into the oil, gas, and coal sector, we don't know which producers are releasing a lot of methane and which are releasing very little,” said Brendan Devlin of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Energy. “With better measurement, reporting, and verification we would be able to make choices about who we buy our fossil gas from in the future — which companies and which countries.”
Out of OGMP grew the CCAC Oil & Gas Methane Science Studies. Members recognized during OGMP meetings a critical lack of methane data, making targeted and effective action incredibly difficult. The goal of the Methane Science Studies is to address this lack of data in the oil and gas sector, particularly outside the United States. Better data helps companies prioritise actions and government policies to mitigate this important SLCP emissions source. The findings from these studies are already guiding the actions of companies around the world while helping governments better target regulation.
This critical work has helped countries and companies undertake important research, such as how to control and quantify the liquids that are flared in the fuel industry, including supporting a number of technical studies to assist countries and regulatory agencies to understand the possibilities and co-benefits of reducing emissions.
The Methane Science Studies have resulted in a number of research projects in specific locations and segments along the gas supply chain around the world, including in Toronto, Hamburg, Paris, across Mexico, and in multiple locations in Australia. The studies drew on the methodological experience of the recent EDF-led studies in the U.S., and aimed to use a variety of methods by taking advantage of many measurement strategies, such as using aeroplanes, satellites, and boats.
“The big result is that we’ve got a lot of data in the sector where previously there was none,” said Tara Yacovitch, a researcher at Aerodyne Research, Inc., of the study she led collecting data about methane emissions for CCAC funded research. This data includes the fact that the top 2 percent of sites were responsible for 20 percent of emissions — which could prove fruitful when targeting intervention. These are particularly significant findings given the fact that when it comes to global methane emissions, there are still large knowledge gaps.
“The fact that we find this skewed distribution means that you can do a lot of good in reducing emissions if you find those top emitters,” said Yacovitch.
The CCAC plans to reduce emissions in the oil and gas sector by 75 percent by 2030 — thereby avoiding 0.14˚C of global warming and preventing 151,460 premature deaths from air pollution.
“For the next decade we’re committed to building on our successes to date but even better, stronger, and faster. The CCAC is already on the right track in terms of what it’s focused on — there just needs to be more of it,” said McDougall. “This is one of the sectors where it's easiest to reduce emissions, and probably the cheapest, and where both the industry and governments are committed, so we expect significant action in this sector over the next decade.”
The CCAC has created a template for countries to make major policy achievements for reducing emissions. The next decade will be about expanding and implementing this work. Pushing for new regulatory approaches to mandate leak detection and repair will be a critical strategy moving forward. The CCAC will continue to drive the high-level political support necessary for action so that government officials have the support they need to move forward.
The CCAC plans to work with both producing and consuming countries to integrate strong methane mitigation into their national climate plans and continue building capacity to regulate the industry. To do this, the CCAC plans to host meetings and workshops with governments and stakeholders, while also connecting governments and companies to facilitate collaborative action. The CCAC also plans to host trainings and webinars to help countries track, measure, and achieve their mitigation targets, as well as raise awareness on the opportunities for mitigation.
“I think the reason to focus on this sector is because it provides an opportunity for a real, near-term win on climate, an impact on temperature change that we can actually see in our lifetimes. The thing that makes it so attractive is the ease with which these reductions can be achieved,” said Banks of the Clean Air Task Force.
While a clean energy transition is vital, the demand for gas to maintain sustainable development is projected to grow another 15 percent over the next decade before it plateaus, making a cleaner, more efficient, better-regulated industry necessary during the transition.
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