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New analysis reveals stark disparities in methane emissions and emissions intensity between major oil and gas operators

BOSTON – A first-of-its-kind analysis from Ceres and the Clean Air Task Force provides investors, operators, natural gas purchasers, policymakers and regulators with the data needed to directly compare relative emissions intensity and total reported methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide emissions for nearly 300 U.S. oil and gas producers. The results reveal dramatic variability between companies and basins.

The report, titled Benchmarking Methane and other GHG Emissions of Oil and Natural Gas Production in the United States, focuses on exploration and production emissions among the largest oil and gas producers in the U.S., and helps create a clear, consistent record for an industry where historically, voluntarily reported metrics are often inconsistent and non-comparable. 

M.J. Bradley & Associates (MJB&A) — an ERM Group company that provides strategic consulting services to support the transition to a net-zero emissions economy — performed the analysis using data companies are required to submit to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in compliance with the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program.

Emissions intensity, or the amount of methane or greenhouse gas emissions per unit of production, varies widely between even similarly-sized operations, according to the report, largely due to differences in equipment and operational practices. The authors hope the findings  will help investors differentiate between companies, and will also inform regulators, lawmakers and even company executives themselves, particularly as the EPA prepares to revise federal methane regulations this fall.

“Our report clearly shows that one oil and gas company is not the same as another when it comes to production emissions,” said Andrew Logan, senior director of oil and gas at Ceres. “The oil and gas companies that minimize and most effectively manage their emissions will be best positioned to survive the transition to a net-zero emissions future.”

The report comes amid growing public awareness about the need to tackle methane emissions, which are 87 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after release. Researchers estimate that methane from human actions is responsible for at least a quarter of today’s warming. Toxic air pollutants, as well as other emissions that contribute to ground-level ozone, are released alongside methane and contribute to increased risk for both cancer and asthma, as well as other respiratory illnesses. These impacts hit industry workers and those living near well pads and fall disproportionately on vulnerable populations and communities of color.

“Methane emissions from the U.S. oil and gas sector are wreaking havoc on people and planet, and we simply cannot meet our climate goals without reining them in,” said Sarah Smith, Super Pollutants Program Director at Clean Air Task Force. “As our report shows, it’s the Wild West right now, with dramatic differences between companies when it comes to methane emissions and emissions intensity. We need strong, sensible regulation of the oil and gas industry if we’re to have any hope of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius and staving off the worst impacts of climate change.”

The report demonstrates that many small oil and gas operators have an outsized impact on total industry greenhouse gas emissions. While the 195 smallest producers included in the report collectively account for just 9% of production, they are responsible for 22% of total reported emissions. Yet the sheer scale of production at major oil and gas companies means their greenhouse gas emissions add up: The top 11 producers in the U.S. industry account for a quarter of total reported greenhouse gas emissions. Even among these 11 companies, emissions vary substantially — the highest emitter’s total GHG emissions are 14 times greater than the lowest emitter.

Comparing emissions intensity between companies reveals that some of the large producers also have disproportionately high emissions. Among the 20 largest hydrocarbon producers, the highest methane intensity is 34 times greater than the lowest and the highest greenhouse gas intensity is 24 times greater than the lowest. The report also shows that certain classes of production equipment are responsible for large shares of total emissions, and companies that use them intensively have correspondingly high emissions intensities. Pneumatic controllers were responsible for 54% of reported methane emissions, while flaring and incinerating gas were responsible for 41% of reported carbon dioxide emissions. 

The report is based on data that companies are required to submit to the EPA, and was not designed to account for orphan wells or abnormal process conditions (also known as “super-emitters”), which are major contributors to total emissions. While super-emitters are not a part of reported emissions, they remain an important priority for methane mitigation.

“By analyzing data reported to EPA under a consistent methodology, this report allows for direct comparison of producer performance,” said Robert LaCount, ERM’s Climate Advisory lead for North America. “These data provide valuable insights to a range of stakeholders and will continue to improve as technology and reporting frameworks allow us to better account for total emissions.”

The report is a collaborative effort between Ceres and the Clean Air Task Force, with support from the Bank of America Foundation. The full interactive datasets are available at www.mjbradley.com.

Clean Air Task Force (CATF) is a non-profit organization working to safeguard against the worst impacts of climate change by catalyzing the rapid global development and deployment of low-carbon energy and other climate-protecting technologies. We work towards these objectives through research and analysis, public advocacy leadership, and partnership with the private sector. With nearly 25 years of nationally and internationally recognized expertise on clean air policy and regulations and a fierce commitment to fully exploring all potential solutions, CATF is an environmental advocacy group with the bold ideas needed today to solve the climate crisis. CATF is headquartered in Boston, with staff working virtually around the U.S. and abroad. For more information, please visit catf.us and follow @cleanaircatf.

Ceres is a nonprofit organization working with the most influential capital market leaders to solve the world’s greatest sustainability challenges. Through our powerful networks and global collaborations of investors, companies and nonprofits, we drive action and inspire equitable market-based and policy solutions throughout the economy to build a just and sustainable future. For more information, visit ceres.org and follow @CeresNews.

M.J. Bradley & Associates (MJB&A), an ERM Group company, provides strategic and technical advisory services to address critical energy and environmental matters including energy policy, regulatory compliance, emission markets, energy efficiency, renewable energy, and advanced technologies. ERM is a global pure-play sustainability consultancy with deep sectoral, technical and business expertise in the low-carbon energy transition. For more information, visit www.mjbradley.com

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