Turkmenistan is the top methane “super-emitter”

An article titled “Revealed: 1,000 super-emitting methane leaks risk triggering climate tipping points” published in the Guardian on March 6th, 2023 puts a spotlight on more than a 1,000 “super-emitter” sites that have emitted high volumes of methane into the atmosphere in 2022. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that can absorb 80 times more heat than CO2, but has a lower lifetime in the atmosphere. The dataset is the result of the analysis of the satellite data by Methane Watch program of the company Kayrros.

Turkmenistan has been identified as the country with the highest number of super-emitting events, with 184 out of 1,005 super-emitting events attributed to the country. Out of top 100 largest super-emitter events linked to fossil fuels 70 have been registered in Turkmenistan. The biggest event with the highest leak of all has also taken place in the country, with 427 tons of methane leaking per hour in August 2022 near the Caspian Sea and a major pipeline. These emissions correspond to the rate of emissions of 67 million cars, or an hourly emission rate of France.

Details of fossil fuel production in Turkmenistan are not known to the public, but these huge leaks are likely linked to the aging Soviet-era equipment and attempts to hide vented gas. Vented methane emissions are not visible, unlike ignited gas which forms less potent CO2 but can be easily detected.

In addition to the super-emitting events of the past year, the satellite imagery has revealed 55 of so-called “methane bombs” – gas fields that are expected to emit more than 1 billion tons of CO2eq of methane from leakage alone. Considering the amount of total methane emissions including the ones resulting from burning of produced gas, brings the number of “methane bombs” to a staggering 120. Three of them are estimated to be in Turkmenistan.

Much attention is usually paid to carbon dioxide emissions, while methane emissions are often overlooked, despite the fact that about a third of a global temperature rise in the past century has been caused by methane. However, a global methane pledge to cut human-caused emissions by 30% by 2030 has been announced at the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in 2021 with 150 participating countries. Some of the key countries, including Turkmenistan, have not signed up.

Methane emission cuts are one of the cheapest and easiest ways to limit global warming. Measures taken to limit the leakage and deliberate venting, or intentional release of gas into the atmosphere during certain gas development processes such as maintenance, would pay off at many oil and gas sites by simply selling the captured gas that would otherwise be lost.

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