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Energy sector's methane leaks rise despite green plans

Satellite images show the number of large methane leaks from the oil and gas industry rose by nearly a third in the first eight months of this year to over 5,000, despite the sector's pledges to reduce greenhouse emissions, data firm Kayrros said.

Methane is almost 90 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide in its first 20 years in the atmosphere.

Kayrros, which counts leaks above 5 tons an hour as hotspots, said leaks in the year to end August in Algeria, Russia and Turkmenistan rose by more than 40%, above the overall global increase of 32%.

Retrofitting and regular maintenance at oil and gas infrastructure to prevent leaks, venting and flaring of methane is costly, and the sector is currently facing a coronavirus-linked oil price slump and a market glut.

"It's a pure consequence of cost cutting," Kayrros president Antoine Rostand said. "Such increases in methane emissions are concerning and in stark contradiction to the direction set in the Paris Agreement of 2015 (to keep global warming below 1.5 degree Celsius)."

"In 2019 alone, our technology tracked a combined volume of visible large methane leaks of 10 million tons, equivalent to over 800 million tons of CO2 over a 20-year period."

In 2019, the largest emitters were the United States, Russia, Algeria, Turkmenistan, Iran and Iraq, Rostand said.

Pledges to reduce methane leaks are more prevalent among listed producers such as BP and Exxon than at national oil companies.

Kayrros' research is part of a growing effort in recent months by data companies, academics and some energy producers to use technology to find the biggest methane leaks.

The European Union, the world's biggest gas importer, is considering binding methane emissions standards for the natural gas it buys, it said.

(Reporting by Shadia Nasralla; Editing by Jason Neely and Jan Harvey)

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