Publisher: Stelios Vasiloudis
Leaks of potent greenhouse gases could be easily fixed and quickly reduce global warming, experts say
Methane leaks from Turkmenistan’s two main fossil fuel deposits alone caused more global warming in 2022 than the UK’s total carbon emissions, new satellite data has revealed. Emissions of the potent greenhouse gas from the oil and gas-rich country are “staggering” and a “maddening” problem that should be easily solved, experts have told the Guardian.
Figures released by Kayrros, which calculates greenhouse gas emissions based on satellite data, revealed that the western Turkmenistan fossil fuel deposit on the Caspian Sea coast discharged 2.6 million tons of methane in 2022 in the atmosphere. The eastern field emitted 1.8 million tonnes. The two fields combined emitted emissions equivalent to 366 million tonnes of CO2, more than the annual emissions of the United Kingdom, which is the 17th in the world.
Methane emissions have increased alarmingly since 2007, and this acceleration could be the biggest threat to keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, scientists say. It also poses a serious risk of overglazing major stages of climate inversion, such as melting giant ice caps and permafrost and weakening ocean currents, the researchers say.
The Guardian recently revealed that Turkmenistan is the worst country in the world for “over-emitting” methane leaks. Separate research suggests that behind some of these huge releases could be a transition from the controlled burning of methane to its release into the atmosphere.
Methane flaring is a common method to get rid of the unwanted part of the gas and releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It is easy to detect and has become increasingly disgusting in recent years. Venting the unwanted methane simply releases the invisible gas into the atmosphere without being burned, which was difficult to detect until recent advances in satellite technology. Methane has trapped 80 times more heat than CO2 over the past 20 years, making its release much worse for the climate.
Experts have told the Guardian that the UN Cop28 climate summit to be held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in December will be an opportunity to promote actions to reduce Turkmenistan’s methane emissions. The two oil states enjoy close ties and the UAE is now under pressure to dispel doubts that a major oil and gas producer (planning to increase production) like them can lead the summit and get solid results.
Treating leaks from fossil fuel sites is the fastest and cheapest way to reduce methane emissions and therefore global warming. Actions to contain leaks can often be profitable, as the captured gas can be sold. But infrastructure maintenance in Turkmenistan is very poor, according to experts.
“Out of control”
“Methane is responsible for almost half of the short-term (global) warming and has not been completely addressed until now – it was completely out of control,” said Antoine Rostand, president of Kayrros. “We know where the hyperemitters are and who does it,” he said. “We just need policymakers and investors to do their job properly, which is to tackle methane emissions. There is no comparable action in terms of reducing short-term climate impacts,” he adds.
Over-emissions from oil and gas facilities are easily stopped, Rostand said, by fixing valves or pipes or, at the very least, restarting the burning of the unwanted gas: “It’s very simple to do, it costs nothing. citizens and producers. The cost is completely marginal,” he adds.
Satellite data used by Kayrros to detect methane has been collected since early 2019, and Turkmenistan’s total emissions show a stabilizing trend since then. The satellites also detected 840 cloudy events in Turkmenistan, e.g. leaks from individual wells, tanks or pipes at a rate of a few tonnes per hour, most of all countries.
Most of the facilities generating methane leaks belong to Turkmenoil, the national oil company, according to Kayrros. Other methane emissions likely originate from Turkmenistan’s offshore oil and gas installations in the Caspian Sea, but are – at present – undetectable as the ability of satellites to measure methane leaks over water is still under development.
Kayrros also carried out high-resolution monitoring of the North Bugdayly field in western Turkmenistan. The number of explosions there has doubled to nearly 60 between 2021 and 2022, with a recent explosion releasing methane for nearly six weeks.
Turkmenistan is China’s second largest supplier of natural gas, after Australia, and plans to double its exports to the country. Until 2018, Turkish citizens received gas and electricity for free. However, the country is also highly vulnerable to the effects of the climate crisis. The likelihood of severe drought is expected to increase “very significantly” during the 21st century, and yields of major crops are expected to decline.
Talking freely about an oppressive and authoritarian state is difficult, but various sources told the Guardian that the situation in the country was “very depressing”. Turkmenistan is probably the worst country in the world when it comes to dealing with methane leaks.
They also said preventing or fixing the leaks presented a “huge opportunity” but inaction was “maddening”. Turkmenistan could stop leaks resulting from aging Soviet-era equipment and practices, they said, and the country could be the “world’s biggest methane reducer”. But the huge amounts of natural gas it contains means they “never cared if there was a leak”.
The same sources say it was not a priority for the President, Serdar Berdimuhamedov – without whose approval little is done. This despite the fact that the president, then deputy chief of staff, said at the UN Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow in 2021 that Turkmenistan was reducing greenhouse gas emissions “by introducing modern technologies in all sectors of the state’s economy”, with “particular attention” to reducing methane emissions.
Berdimuhamedov also hailed the Global Methane Commitment (GMP) to reduce emissions, but Turkmenistan has avoided joining the 150 countries that have signed up so far. Turkmenoil and Turkengas, the state-owned companies, members of a voluntary UN initiative to reduce leakage, the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership 2.0 (OGMP2), which accounts for around 40% of the world’s oil and gas production not more. “The president has not followed up,” a source said.
“The Biggest Hotspot”
Recent scientific research, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, found the west coast of Turkmenistan to be “one of the biggest methane hotspots in the world”.
A detailed analysis of satellite data revealed 29 different overemission events between 2017 and 2020, although earlier satellite data showed that “this type of emission has been happening for decades”. The researchers say that 24 of the 29 overemission events came from stacks of (state-owned) incinerators that shut down and then released methane directly into the air. The other five were related to pipeline leaks. The scientists also said that “the most common emitters conflict with the law of Turkmenistan, which prohibits the burning or continuous release of the gas.”
“Combustion is very easy to detect from the flame itself,” says Itziar Irakulis-Loitxate, of the Universitat Politècnica de València in Spain, who led the study. “But the release of the gas into the atmosphere was something you couldn’t easily identify – until two years ago.” Switching to deregulation, a far worse environmental practice, was “difficult”, another expert said.
The scientists said the increased release of the gas into the atmosphere “indicates the dangers of imposing punitive measures against the burning of unwanted methane without first taking effective action to control its release”. The World Bank launched a global initiative to end burning in 2015.
The UN climate summit in December represents an opportunity for change, sources said, as it is hosted by the United Arab Emirates, which has close ties to Turkmenistan and expertise in oil and gas production. gas. The most recent visit by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, to Turkmenistan was in February. He met Berdimuhamedov and discussed with him bilateral cooperation “in vital sectors like oil and natural gas”.
The United Arab Emirates is a member of the Global Methane Pledge and the state oil company Adnoc is a member of OGMP2. Adnoc recently announced a partnership to develop a “super giant natural gas field” called Galkynysh and other energy projects in Turkmenistan. However, Adnoc did not respond to a request for information on how the company will help reduce methane emissions in the country.
The Guardian has information that diplomatic efforts are underway to persuade Turkmenistan to reduce methane emissions. “We really hope Cop28 will be an enforcement mechanism,” a source said.
Source: The Guardian