Oil and gas production in the GOM has a heavier impact that previously believed

The climate impact of the U.S. Gulf of Mexico’s oil and gas production could be higher than government inventories indicate.

This discrepancy emerged from a new study that calculated the carbon intensity of the Gulf offshore oil and gas production via atmospheric observations of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4).

“What we found is that a certain type of shallow water platform had large methane emissions that elevated total greenhouse gas emissions for the entire Gulf of Mexico,” said Eric Kort, an associate professor of climate and space sciences and engineering at the University of Michigan and the paper’s corresponding author.

What is methane? 

Methane is a hydrocarbon and a greenhouse gas (GHG) and the chief component of natural gas. Like other greenhouse gases, methane influences the planet’s temperature and is the second most significant GHG contributor to climate change.

Methane’s warming potential is 28 times that of the main GHG contributor to climate change, carbon dioxide, on a 100-year time scale. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA)’s Global Methane Tracker 2023, 40 percent of the anthropogenic emissions of this greenhouse gas are generated by the energy sector. This includes the 40m of emissions from the coal, oil, and natural gas sectors.

The study 

The study “Excess methane emissions from shallow water platforms elevate the carbon intensity of U.S. Gulf of Mexico oil and gas production” was published on Monday, April 3, 2023, in the U.S. peer-reviewed journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Conducted by researchers from the University of Michigan, Stanford University, Scientific Aviation, the Environmental Defense Fund, the University of Arizona, and the University of Wisconsin, the study is the result of the F3UEL (Flaring & Fossil Fuels: Uncovering Emissions & Losses) project.

Oil and gas
Methane is the second most significant GHG contributor to climate change. © Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico waters

The Gulf of Mexico (GOM) is the United States’ largest offshore fossil fuel production basin. On Wednesday, March 29, 2023, through Lease Sale 259, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) put up for auction about 73 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico to fossil fuel companies.

This auction occurred shortly after the administration approved ConocoPhillips’s Willow project. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, around one-quarter of United States carbon emissions come from public lands- extracted fossil fuels.

Taking a closer look at the emissions from the U.S. Gulf of Mexico oil and gas production

To analyze the Gulf of Mexico’s fossil fuel production’s climate impact, the researchers working on the study used a combination of airborne in situ observations and antecedent field surveys and inventories.

Their research found that the basin’s climate impact is over twice that reported in the inventories. This discrepancy in climate impact is linked to the excess methane emissions generated from offshore platforms located in shallow waters, particularly central hubs.

“We have presented the climate impact of both oil and gas production as an observation-based carbon intensity,” said Alan Gorchov Negron, the study’s first author and a graduate student research assistant at the University of Michigan.


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