(Bloomberg) -- Many oil and gas companies are ignoring one of the fastest and cheapest ways to cool the planet, data released by the International Energy Agency in its annual methane tracking report show.Fossil fuel companies emitted more than 120 million metric tons of methane in 2022, just short of a record set in 2019. While very large leaks detected by satellite fell by 10%, global oil and gas operations still emitted the equivalent of the massive Nord Stream release on average every day, according to the IEA’s Methane Tracker. Most of that is a result of what’s known as “non-emergency” releases that include flaring and is avoidable. 

Energy companies still routinely release natural gas, which is primarily composed of methane, during regular maintenance or combust it through a flare. But new and existing gas recovery technologies can vacuum up many planned emissions before they have a chance to enter the atmosphere, rendering the need for most releases obsolete.

“Stopping all non-emergency flaring and venting is the single most impactful measure countries can take to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations,” the IEA said in its annual report released Tuesday. 

About 80% of the options to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas globally could be implemented at no net cost based on surging natural gas prices last year, the IEA said. That’s because the captured gas can be sold at a profit. Replacing pumps, installing new vapor recovery units, utilizing blowdown capture technologies and implementing better leak detection methods are just some of the approaches operators can use to curb their releases.

More than 260 billion cubic meters of natural gas is wasted through flaring and releases annually, of which the IEA estimates more than three-fourths could be transported to markets. That amount of the fossil fuel is greater than the European Union’s gas imports from Russia prior to that country’s invasion of Ukraine, the IEA said.

Energy is the biggest contributor to man-made emissions after agriculture and livestock. Scientists say emissions from oil, gas and coal offer some of the cheapest and quickest solutions to curbing the invisible greenhouse gas.

Growing data, including through satellite observations, has raised the level of accountability for methane emitters. The emissions are also drawing more attention as governments look for ways to meet climate goals: some 150 countries have promised to cut emissions of the greenhouse gas at least 30% by the end of the decade from 2020 levels through the Global Methane Pledge.

Some fossil fuel operators are making progress on curbing their emissions. The Oil & Gas Methane Partnership 2.0 initiative launched by the United Nations Environment Programme and the Clean Air Coalition is working with dozens of operators to reduce the sector’s releases.

Some countries are also installing more stringent regulatory regimes. Starting next year, the US Environmental Protection Agency will impose fines on oil and gas facilities that exceed methane release thresholds. 

This year’s Methane Tracker also includes a detailed report on methane emissions from coal. Although technical solutions exist for capturing the greenhouse gas that can escape when sedimentary rocks are crushed or coal seams are exposed, policymakers shouldn’t assume that the industry has the right incentives to take voluntary action, the IEA said.

“Most mitigation opportunities are not cost-effective without pricing externalities” in the coal sector, the report said. “In such cases, policy and regulation can be used to change company incentives. Sound strategies will be needed to overcome the technical, institutional and economic barriers to coal mine methane reduction.”

Coal, oil and natural gas were each responsible for about 40 million tons of methane emissions last year, the IEA said. Another 5 million tons was emitted from end-use equipment. The bioenergy sector was responsible for another 10 million tons. 

Bloomberg Green has used satellite observations since July 2020 to identify about 70 methane releases that appeared to be linked to the energy and waste sectors, including almost two dozen in the US. The coverage has triggered multiple government investigations in the US.

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