UK oil and gas air pollution five times higher than official reports

Following damning evidence last year that overall greenhouse gas emissions in the UK may be treble government figures, a new report suggests that may be the tip of the iceberg. 

A new study conducted by Princeton and Colorado State University suggests the current model for calculating methane emissions from offshore oil and gas industries in the United Kingdom can lead to dramatically lower-than-actual readings. 

brown and white building during night time

In fact, the maths is so off that levels of the gas – which the scientific community considers among the most harmful of greenhouse emissions – may be up to five times higher in reality than official numbers show. This conclusion results from a rigorous examination of the agreed testing process in the UK, then applying alternative, peer-reviewed approaches and generating revised readings.

‘Methane emissions from offshore facilities are currently largely uncertain, and because sources on facilities only emit for a short time period, using direct survey methods such as satellite or drones will probably only capture about 25% of the actual emissions,’ said Stuart Riddick, lead author and research scientist at Colorado State University. ‘To generate representative baseline emissions across the sector, we need to work with industry to develop practical, effective, and collaborative measurement strategies,’ Riddick said.

As the UK isn’t the only nation to measure emissions in this way, it’s highly likely that similar levels of underreporting are evident across the world. You can read the full report here.

Last year, Climate Trace reported that emissions from oil and gas facilities globally were likely to be underreported by around one-third. Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned in March 2022 that its Global Methane Tracker pointed to emissions from oil, gas and coal being around 70% higher than official reports claimed. 

The news comes at a time when fossil fuel giants BP and Shell have come in line for further criticism after posting respective profits of £32.2bn and £27.7bn in 2022, with BP also announcing plans to scale back climate goals and increase production. In December, Air Quality News reported on record fines handed to North Sea oil and gas operators as a result of emissions and over-production.

Image: Dean Brierley


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