Heavy oil mining would emit 3.9 times more methane than reported
Researchers quantified emissions from 962 heavy oil facilities in the Prairies.
At COP27, Canada and the United States committed to reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sectors by 75% by 2030.
New research being conducted with state-of-the-art technology conclude that heavy oil facilities in Saskatchewan release nearly four times the amount of a potent greenhouse gas that they report to the government.
The study was published in early February (in English) in the scientific journal Environmental Science and Technology.
Corrigendum: In an earlier version, The Canadian Press claimed that the The methane study included Alberta. In fact, Alberta was not included in the study.
According to one of the authors, Matthew Johnson, professor of engineering at Carleton University, Ottawa, researchers have used new methods of measuring methane emissions, challenging quantification practices from the oil industry.
Many reports are based on imprecise estimates, laments the researcher.
Methane is a a by-product of oil production with a warming potential 25 times greater than that of carbon dioxide over a 100-year period, says the Canadian government in its methane strategy.
Industry and the federal government are trying to reduce these emissions by 75%, but it is difficult to quantify the extent of this because they are difficult measures to take, acknowledges Matthew Johnson.
Industry estimates the volume of methane emitted by measuring the amount of methane that rises to the surface during the process of producing a barrel of oil. This estimate is then multiplied by the number of barrels produced.
Matthew Johnson claims that the amount of methane produced per barrel of oil is highly variable, which makes calculations based on this report unreliable.
Indeed, in recent years, several studies using a quantification system from aircraft flying over extraction sites have challenged the oil industry's method of calculation.
To better quantify the volume of methane produced by the petroleum industry, study researchers used the latest in airborne technology and ground-based sensors to measure methane emissions from 962 heavy oil facilities in Saskatchewan. /p>
They found that these sites release 3.9 times more methane than government data reports, that's more than 10,000 kilograms of methane emissions per hour, compared to industry estimates which are around 2700 kilograms per hour.
Methane alone would be a significant contributor to Saskatchewan's overall emissions, says Matthew Johnson.
Getting an accurate picture of how much methane is released into the atmosphere by the oil industry is important for several reasons, believes the researcher.
Industry and the federal government have agreed to reduce these emissions by 75% by 2030. Regulations to meet this target are expected this year and it is crucial, says Matthew Johnson, to quantify this reduction for a precise basis.
The researcher says that obtaining a reliable analysis of emissions, well by well, will be important for the industry in the ;coming. In the United States, in particular, the government is considering putting a price on methane released under its Inflation Reduction Act. According to an explanatory report from the US Congress, a ton of methane will cost US$900 in 2024 and US$1,500 in 2026.
Good information will be essential to know which wells remain profitable as that such pricing schemes will spread, says Johnson.
“If you put a price on methane, a lot of these will not be profitable.
—Matthew Johnson, Professor of Engineering at Carleton University in Ottawa