Climate Scientists Record Extremely High Methane Emissions Across Mexico’s Gulf States

by Environment Defense Fund - 26 January, 2021
Onshore oil & gas facilities emit 10 times more methane than Mexico’s government reports; Emissions from burning natural gas represent $200 million revenue loss

En español

A group of international scientists have 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 are mainly from inefficient industrial flares burning off unused natural gas.

The observations were made during a study supported by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition’s Oil and Gas Methane Studies, an activity under the Coalition’s Mineral Methane Initiative, led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

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
Dr. Daniel Zavala-Araiza

“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 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.  

Mexico info.JPG
Figure 1. Maps illustrating location of study regions. (Left) Onshore study region (green lines), sampling took place over the states of Veracruz, Tabasco, and Chiapas (between the cities of Coatzacoalcos in Veracruz and Villahermosa in Tabasco, denoted by dark red circles). The aircraft sampled sub-regions A and C on different days (sub-region B was not sampled by the aircraft). (Right) Offshore study region (blue line): the sampling took place off the coast of Campeche. Dark grey dots represent all production wells in the study regions (active and inactive), with concentric purple and light blue circles illustrating oil production volumes in thousand barrels per day (Mbbl d−1 ) (note different scale between panels). The green triangle indicates sampled gathering facility (Atasta) and the orange pentagon indicates sampled gas processing complex (Nuevo Pemex). Additional oil and gas facilities are shown in yellow.

Better understanding of 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.”


Environment Defense Fund: Amy Glover, +52 55 8008 6573, amy.glover [at];  Lauren Whittenberg, +1 512 691 3437, lwhittenberg [at]

Climate and Clean Air Coalition/UNEP: Tiy Chung, +33 6 26 71 79 81, tiy.chung [at]