Equilibrium & Sustainability

Satellites scrutinize site-specific emissions in effort backed by Al Gore

Al Gore, former Vice President of the United States speaks at the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Friday, Nov. 5, 2021. The U.N. climate summit in Glasgow gathers leaders from around the world, in Scotland’s biggest city, to lay out their vision for addressing the common challenge of global warming. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Oil and gas operations account for more than half of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, according to a new database backed by former Vice President Al Gore.

The global inventory of greenhouse gas emissions, released by the nonprofit Climate TRACE on Wednesday, homes in on facility-level emissions data for 72,612 sites worldwide.

Of these facilities, 26 of the 50 biggest emitters were oil and gas production, processing and transport sites, per the database, presented on the sidelines of the United Nations climate change conference (COP27).

By harnessing pollution data available from satellites, remote sensing, artificial intelligence and machine learning, the inventory aims to unearth emissions activities that might otherwise be undetectable.

“The climate crisis can, at times, feel like an intractable challenge — in large part because we’ve had a limited understanding of precisely where emissions are coming from,” Gore, who is also a founding member of Climate TRACE, said in a statement.

“This level of granularity means that we finally have emissions data that enable us to act decisively,” the former vice president continued.

The availability of such information will help countries achieve the greenhouse gas cuts necessary “to prevent the most catastrophic impacts of the climate crisis,” he added.

Although the top 500 individual emissions sources represent less than 1 percent of total facilities in Climate TRACE’s dataset, these sites accounted for 14 percent of global emissions in 2021, according to the inventory.

Meanwhile, power plants alone were responsible for more than half of the emissions and three-fifths of the assets on the top 500 list.

Breaking down the data to focus on different sectors, the inventory stresses that previous assessments had significantly underestimated emissions coming from oil and gas production, refining and transport.

The new dataset, however, incorporated satellite-detected emissions from activities like natural gas flaring — the burning of excess gas — and methane leakage in the U.S., Russia, Turkmenistan, the Middle East and other global hotspots.

Among the top countries that report their oil and gas production emissions to the U.N., Climate TRACE found that emissions are as much as three times higher than self-reported information.

The top 10 global oil and gas production and transport emitters for 2021 were Russia, the U.S., China, Canada, Iran, Algeria, Turkmenistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Qatar, according to the inventory’s fossil fuel operations analysis.

Six of these countries — Russia, Iraq, Iran, the U.S., Algeria and China — were also among the top 10 countries to engage of the practice of natural gas flaring.

Flaring is the combustion of natural gas as a means of depressurizing an extraction or processing site and predominantly generates carbon dioxide and methane emissions, as defined by the analysis.

While carbon dioxide has a longer-lasting impact than that of methane, the latter is much more powerful in trapping heat in the short-term.

And when flaring is not occurring at optimal efficiency, substantial quantities of pollutants like black soot and nitrous oxide, as well as additional methane, are released into the atmosphere, according to the International Energy Agency.

The top 10 global methane emitters, as identified by the Climate TRACE analysis, are Russia, the U.S., Algeria, China, Iran, Canada, Turkmenistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Qatar.

In addition to probing the oil and gas industry, the Climate TRACE inventory also provides emissions source data for a variety of other sectors, including power, shipping, aviation, mining, waste, agriculture and road transportation, as well as the production of steel, cement and aluminum.

“We’ve been able to estimate the emissions of nearly all the largest emitting facilities on the planet,” Gavin McCormick, founder and executive director of Climate TRACE, said in a statement.

Stressing that the dataset included the combined efforts of more than 100 organizations worldwide, McCormick acknowledged that their work is far from complete.

Nonetheless, he described the inventory as “a game changer that can help them make better decisions and decarbonize faster.”

Tags Al Gore Al Gore carbon emmissions Climate change Climate TRACE natural gas flaring

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video