Incredible amounts of methane are being emitted into the atmosphere from Turkmenistan

By | May 15, 2023

Editing: Stelios Vasiloudis

Leaks of powerful greenhouse gases could be easily fixed, experts say, and would rapidly reduce global warming.

Methane leaks from Turkmenistan’s two main fossil fuel fields caused more global warming in 2022 than the UK’s total carbon emissions, new satellite data has revealed. The oil and gas-rich country’s emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas are “staggering” and an “infuriating” problem that should be easy to solve, experts told The Guardian.

Figures released by Kayrros, which calculates greenhouse gas emissions based on satellite data, found that the western Turkmenistan fossil fuel field on the Caspian Sea coast leaked 2.6 million tons of methane in 2022. to the atmosphere. The eastern field emitted 1.8 million tons. The two fields combined emitted emissions equivalent to 366 million tonnes of CO2, more than the annual emissions of the UK, which is the 17th largest in the world.

Methane emissions have risen alarmingly since 2007, and this acceleration may be the biggest threat to keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, say scientists. It also poses a serious risk of overglazing major climate reversal milestones, such as the melting of giant ice sheets and permafrost and weakening ocean currents, the researchers say.

The Guardian recently revealed that Turkmenistan was the worst country in the world for “over-emitting” methane leaks. Separate research suggests that behind some of these huge outputs there may be a transition from the controlled burning of methane to its release into the atmosphere.

Burning methane is a common method of getting rid of the unwanted part of the gas, and it releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It’s easy to spot and has become increasingly nasty in recent years. Venting the unwanted methane simply releases the invisible gas into the atmosphere without burning, and this has been difficult to detect until recent advances in satellite technology. Methane has trapped 80 times more heat than CO2 in the last 20 years, making its release much worse for the climate.

Experts told The Guardian that the Cop28 UN climate summit to be held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in December would be an opportunity to promote action to reduce Turkmenistan’s methane emissions. The two oil states have close ties and the United Arab Emirates is now under pressure to allay doubts that a major oil and gas producer (planning to expand production) like them can lead the summit and push for strong results.

Addressing leaks from fossil fuel sites is the fastest and cheapest way to reduce methane emissions and therefore global warming. Action to contain leaks can often be profitable, as the captured gas can be sold. But infrastructure maintenance in Turkmenistan is very poor, according to experts.

“Out of control”

“Methane is responsible for almost half of the (climate) warming in the short term and has not been fully addressed until now, it was completely out of control,” said Antoine Rostand, president of Kayrros. “We know where the hyperemitters are and who’s doing it,” he said. “We just need policymakers and investors to do their job properly, which is to crack down on methane emissions. There is no comparable action in terms of reducing climate impacts in the short term ”, he adds.

Excessive emissions from oil and gas facilities are easily stopped, Rostand said, by repairing valves or pipelines, or at least restarting flaring of the unwanted gas: “It’s very simple to do, there’s no cost to the citizen and to the producers. The cost is completely marginal,” he adds.

Satellite data used by Kayrros to detect methane has been collected since the beginning of 2019, and Turkmenistan’s total emissions show a leveling trend since then. Satellites have also detected 840 cloudy events in Turkmenistan, e.g. leaks from individual wells, tanks or pipelines at the rate of a few tons per hour, the most of any country.

Most of the leaking methane facilities are owned by Turkmenoil, the national oil company, according to Kayrros. Other methane emissions are likely to come from Turkmenistan’s offshore oil and gas facilities in the Caspian Sea, but are currently undetectable as the ability for satellites to measure methane leaks is still being developed. methane over water.

Kayrros also conducted high-resolution monitoring of the North Bugdayly field in western Turkmenistan. The number of outburst events there doubled to nearly 60 between 2021 and 2022, with a recent outburst leaking methane for nearly six weeks.

Turkmenistan is China’s second-biggest supplier of natural gas, after Australia, and plans to double its exports to the country. Until 2018, Turkish citizens received free gas and electricity. However, the country is also highly vulnerable to the effects of the climate crisis. The probability of severe drought is forecast to increase “very significantly” during the 21st century, with yields of major crops expected to decline.

“Great opportunity”

Speaking freely about an oppressive and authoritarian state is difficult, but several sources told The Guardian that the situation in the country was “very depressing.” Turkmenistan is probably the worst country in the world when it comes to methane leaks.

They also said that preventing or fixing the leaks represented a “great opportunity” but that the lack of action was “maddening.” Turkmenistan could stop leaks stemming from aging Soviet-era equipment and practices, they said, and the country could be the “world’s largest methane reducer.” But the huge amounts of natural gas it contains meant they “never cared if there was a leak.”

The same sources assure that it was not a priority for the president, Serdar Berdimuhamedov – without whose approval little is done. This despite the fact that the president, then deputy chief of staff, told the UN’s Cop26 Climate Summit in Glasgow in 2021 that Turkmenistan was reducing greenhouse gas emissions “through the introduction of modern technologies in all sectors of the economy of the state”, with “special attention” to the reduction of methane emissions.

Berdimuhamedov also welcomed the Global Methane Pledge (GMP) to reduce emissions, but Turkmenistan has avoided joining the 150 nations that have signed it so far. Neither did Turkmenoil and Turkengas, the state-owned companies, members of a voluntary UN initiative to reduce leakage, the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership 2.0 (OGMP2), which accounts for around 40% of global oil and gas production. “The president did not follow up,” a source said.

“The Biggest Hotspot”

Recent scientific research, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, found the west coast of Turkmenistan to be “one of the world’s largest methane hotspots.”

Detailed analysis of the satellite data revealed 29 different over-emission events between 2017 and 2020, though previous satellite data showed that “this type of emission has been going on for decades.” The researchers claim that 24 of the 29 over-emission events came from lots of (state-owned) incinerators shutting down and then releasing methane directly into the air. The remaining five were linked to pipeline leaks. The scientists also said that “the most common emitters were in conflict with Turkmenistan law, which prohibits the burning or continuous release of the gas.”

“Combustion is very easy to detect from the flame itself,” says Itziar Irakulis-Loitxate, of Spain’s Universitat Politècnica de València, who led the study. “But the release of the gas into the atmosphere was something that couldn’t be easily identified, until two years ago.” The move to deregulation, a far worse environmental practice, was “challenging,” according to another expert.

The scientists said the increased release of the gas into the atmosphere “indicates the dangers of imposing punitive measures against the flaring of unwanted methane without first taking effective measures to control its release.” The World Bank established a global initiative to end burning in 2015.

“Compulsion Mechanism”

The UN climate summit in December represents an opportunity for change, the sources said, as it is being hosted by the United Arab Emirates, which has strong ties to Turkmenistan and experience in oil and gas production. Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, most recently visited Turkmenistan in February. He met with Berdimuhamedov and discussed with him bilateral cooperation “in vital sectors such as oil and natural gas.”

The UAE is a member of the Global Methane Pledge and the state oil company Adnoc is a member of OGMP2. Adnoc recently announced a partnership to develop a “super-giant natural gas field” called Galkynysh and other energy projects in Turkmenistan. However, Adnoc did not respond to a request for information on how the company will help curb methane emissions in the country.

The Guardian has information that diplomatic efforts are underway to persuade Turkmenistan to reduce methane emissions. “We really hope Cop28 will be a compliance mechanism,” a source said.

Source: The Guardian

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