Gulf of Mexico oil worse for climate than thought, study

Gulf of Mexico Oil Worse for Climate Than Thought, Study Finds

Offshore oil and gas operations in the Gulf of Mexico are releasing far more climate-changing methane than official estimates show, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study found that the additional methane coming from oil and gas platforms in the Gulf region raises their carbon intensity to twice as much as estimated by U.S. agencies like the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. The release of methane is a significant contributor to climate change, and reductions in both methane and carbon dioxide emissions are essential to mitigate its future severity.

The Problem with Methane Emissions in the Gulf

Eric A. Kort, a climate scientist at the University of Michigan and co-author of the study, said that the majority of the methane emissions researchers found were wafting from oil and gas operations in shallow waters, where the oldest oil platforms are. The problem was most acute where energy companies are mostly going after oil and aren’t that interested in the methane gas that lies underground with it, so they simply release it into the air.

Impact on Climate Change

The study’s findings are concerning, as methane is a potent greenhouse gas. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, methane is responsible for 25% of the warming the planet is experiencing today. In the short term, methane is much more damaging to the climate than carbon dioxide. Although carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, methane breaks down more quickly, but while it lasts, it warms the planet over 80 times as much as carbon dioxide does over a 20-year period.

Implications for Offshore Oil and Gas Operations

The findings of this study could have significant implications for future offshore oil and gas operations as the federal government prepares to lease more areas in the Gulf for drilling. The Inflation Reduction Act includes a provision that mandates the federal government offer extensive new offshore leases in federal water for oil and gas drilling if it wants to lease for offshore solar and wind energy.

Alan M. Gorchov Negron, another climate scientist at the University of Michigan and study co-author, said there are ten more lease sales scheduled for waters in the Gulf of Mexico over the next five years. “This question of the climate impact of future production will return,” he said. “So it’s still relevant to future lease sale climate impact statements.”

The Importance of Jointly Quantifying Methane and Carbon Dioxide Emissions

The study’s approach to jointly quantifying methane emissions from leakage and venting and carbon dioxide emissions from combustion is noteworthy. This method allows for a more comprehensive understanding of the impact of oil and gas production on climate change. “In particular, the authors have demonstrated the importance of jointly quantifying methane emissions from leakage and venting and carbon dioxide emissions from combustion,” said Riley Duren, a research scientist at the University of Arizona who leads Carbon Mapper, a group pioneering accessible and transparent information about where greenhouse gases are being released.

Shallow Water Drilling versus Deepwater Drilling

Kort said that the findings can help policymakers or federal and state agencies compare the climate impact of shallow versus deepwater drilling, to guide where they offer leases. “It’s very clear from our results that expanding production in shallow waters, the way it’s been done historically, would have disproportionately high climate impacts,” he said. The oil platforms out in deeper water emitted much less methane per unit of energy.

Conclusion

Offshore oil and gas operations in the Gulf of Mexico are releasing far more climate-changing methane than official estimates show, according to the recent study. The findings highlight the importance of reducing methane emissions and quantifying them accurately, as they are a significant contributor to climate change. This study’s approach to jointly quantifying methane and carbon dioxide emissions from oil and gas operations can help provide a more comprehensive understanding of their impact on climate change.

The study also raises concerns about future offshore oil and gas operations in the Gulf of Mexico, as the federal government prepares to lease more areas for drilling. The study’s authors suggest that policymakers and federal and state agencies should consider the climate impact of shallow versus deepwater drilling to guide where they offer leases. It is crucial to address methane emissions from oil and gas operations as they are a potent greenhouse gas responsible for 25% of the warming the planet is experiencing today.