The Oil-Climate Index (OCI) was developed to alert public and private stakeholders to the full array of oils’ climate impacts from various perspectives, with an eye toward informing investment, development, operations, and governance of the oil supply chain. The index provides new knowledge that these stakeholders can take into account to make more informed, strategic, and durable decisions about oil development, operations, and infrastructure planning. For instance, it can be used to analyze public policies to reduce oils’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The OCI is an analytic tool that estimates and compares the total life-cycle GHG emissions of individual oils—from upstream extraction to midstream refining to downstream end use. It also highlights variations in the GHG emissions profiles of different oils in different stages of the supply chain. Oils that are in production as well as prospective resources can be modeled. As the characteristics of oil changes, the OCI enables stakeholders to compare diversifying oils’ GHG footprints and to plan ahead to mitigate the climate impacts of tomorrow’s oils.
Methane emissions from global fossil fuel production are up to 60 percent higher than previously estimated according to a large study by NOAA and several universities - increased natural gas production is a major culprit. From a new paper in Nature:
Upward revision of global fossil fuel methane emissions based on isotope database
Stefan Schwietzke, Owen A. Sherwood, Lori M. P. Bruhwiler, John B. Miller, Giuseppe Etiope, Edward J. Dlugokencky, Sylvia Englund Michel, Victoria A. Arling, Bruce H. Vaughn, James W. C. White & Pieter P. Tans
Methane has the second-largest global radiative forcing impact of anthropogenic greenhouse gases after carbon dioxide, but our understanding of the global atmospheric methane budget is incomplete. The global fossil fuel industry (production and usage of natural gas, oil and coal) is thought to contribute 15 to 22 per cent of methane emissions1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 to the total atmospheric methane budget11. However, questions remain regarding methane emission trends as a result of fossil fuel industrial activity and the contribution to total methane emissions of sources from the fossil fuel industry and from natural geological seepage12, 13, which are often co-located. Here we re-evaluate the global methane budget and the contribution of the fossil fuel industry to methane emissions based on long-term global methane and methane carbon isotope records. We compile the largest isotopic methane source signature database so far, including fossil fuel, microbial and biomass-burning methane emission sources. We find that total fossil fuel methane emissions (fossil fuel industry plus natural geological seepage) are not increasing over time, but are 60 to 110 per cent greater than current estimates1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 owing to large revisions in isotope source signatures. We show that this is consistent with the observed global latitudinal methane gradient. After accounting for natural geological methane seepage12, 13, we find that methane emissions from natural gas, oil and coal production and their usage are 20 to 60 per cent greater than inventories1, 2. Our findings imply a greater potential for the fossil fuel industry to mitigate anthropogenic climate forcing, but we also find that methane emissions from natural gas as a fraction of production have declined from approximately 8 per cent to approximately 2 per cent over the past three decades.
Affiliations Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, USA Stefan Schwietzke, John B. Miller & Victoria A. Arling
NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory, Global Monitoring Division, Boulder, Colorado, USA Stefan Schwietzke, Lori M. P. Bruhwiler, John B. Miller, Edward J. Dlugokencky, Victoria A. Arling & Pieter P. Tans
Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, USA Owen A. Sherwood, Sylvia Englund Michel, Bruce H. Vaughn & James W. C. White
Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia, Sezione Roma 2, Italy Giuseppe Etiope
Faculty of Environmental Science and Engineering, Babes Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania Giuseppe Etiope
Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas - much more than carbon dioxide - and is often released in oil fracking, natural gas mining operations and pipelines. It doesn't take much to make the global warming impact of natural gas worse than coal for equivalent amounts of energy. Monitoring its release is important, but tracking it is very difficult as its signature is noisy. It turns out a clean signal is available in the form of ethane.
Along with that came an international mystery. Methane, a major global warming gas, is often found with oil. It is the main component of natural gas, but by 2014 there were mounting suspicions that a lot of it was leaking or being vented into the air over the production fields, rather than being shipped off to market.
Airborne methane poses one of the toughest problems for chemists who study the atmosphere. It is difficult to track using conventional analysis because it has what some scientists call a “noisy signal” that makes it hard to identify where it came from. Bacteria can produce it in wetlands, and cows, termites and some forms of agriculture, such as rice production, emit it.
The plane seemingly loitering overhead that May was a De Havilland Twin Otter, part of the aerial fleet of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And the scientists who had sent it to patrol the Bakken were developing a new approach to tracking methane. Among other gases, the plane was hunting for ethane, a colorless, odorless gas. It dissipates in a few weeks, but it is a compound that responds to analysis with a crisp signal and is always found with methane in natural gas emissions.
What they found in the skies over the Bakken that May was the equivalent of 1 to 3 percent of the world’s estimated emissions of ethane floating over a relatively tiny place. It was evidence that the Bakken was leaking raw natural gas, including huge amounts of methane, which is 86 times more potent as a global warmer than carbon dioxide during the first nine years of its life. Then it decays into carbon dioxide, which can last for centuries.
The study concluded that the Bakken was leaking methane at a rate of 275,000 tons per year. That meant finding and closing the leaks would have about the same impact on climate change as removing 1.45 million cars from the nation’s highways for a year. The ethane leak, of similar size, was so big that it was detected in Europe.
The trend line for the transportation sector is less encouraging. Transportation emissions have begun rising as the economy rebounds. John DeCicco at the University of Michigan Energy Institute, who wrote the study, attributes the rebound we’ve seen during the past four years to straightforward causes: economic recovery and more affordable fuel prices. Vehicle sales numbers have been rising for several years, in particular for trucks and SUVs, and people are traveling more miles.
The trends have significant implications for the country’s energy policy. President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan will help ensure that emissions from generating electricity continue to fall in the coming years, and there are plenty of alternatives to coal-fired power plants. As for transportation, gasoline and diesel figure to keep dominating the market for decades because electric cars, the alternative, have been slow to take off. Federal laws designed to increase fuel efficiency and reduce tailpipe emissions will only serve to offset increasing travel demand, DeCicco says.