On 25 March 2022 the South East Climate Alliance (SECA) hosted an online Knowledge Sharing event about methane. The focus on this Friday evening was on methane as a neglected factor in the climate and ecological emergency, and on regulatory challenges in the UK and Europe.
Our speakers were:
- Danny Lee of Petersfield Climate Action Network and Winchester Action on the Climate Crisis. Presentation click here.
- Emily Mott from the Weald Action Group, an umbrella organisation which represents local groups, campaigning against all forms of oil and gas (O&G) extraction across the Weald and the Isle of Wight. Presentation click here.
- James Turitto, campaign manager of the Clean Air Task Force (CATF), our guest speaker based in Germany. Presentation click here.
By way of introduction, Danny described the basic properties of methane, its ecological lifecycle in terms of both natural and human provenance, and its role as a potent pollutant. Methane is the second most important greenhouse gas after CO2, though it has a lifetime in the atmosphere of just 12 years, meaning efforts to reduce it will bring immediate benefits in reducing global warming. Emissions related to human activities come mostly from agriculture (37%), O&G production and coal mining (32%), and waste management and landfills (11%) according to the Global Methane Initiative. This session focussed only on emissions from the O&Gindustry. Perhaps a future methane discussion will consider the larger agricultural component.
Danny highlighted the International Panel on Climate Change “Code Red for Humanity” warning in 2021, and its focus on methane. At COP26 the US, UK and EU announced the Global Methane Pledge to cut emissions by 2030. In 2021, oil and gas industry body the UK Offshore Energies Association published an action plan outlining proposed measures to cut emissions but Danny said he was not aware of an integrated UK methane reduction plan produced by the government.
Emily outlined a recent project monitoring methane polluting sites in the UK, and highlighted the lack of regulatory oversight. She showed video from several sites including Singleton in West Sussex, and said lack of scrutiny was a particular issue at older oil drilling sites, such as Kimmeridge and Singleton. Videos from thermal imaging cameras show the methane escaping from oil storage tanks, being cold-vented and released untreated into the atmosphere, against sector best practices.
James has worked with Emily and others on methane emissions monitoring, but his current focus is the European Union rather than the UK. The EU is working on regulations for methane emissions, and James said he was keen to provide evidence to help inform the process. He said 75% of methane emissions could be cut with little or no cost for companies. He outlined CATF’s campaign to document O&G emissions within the EU and said CATF planned to work on building support for regulation in the UK.
After the presentations, we had an engaging Q&A session facilitated by environmental campaigner Jill Sutcliffe. The following is an extract of the Zoom Chat communications. Responses represent the views of attendees.
Role of Regulators
Q: Why are they letting this cold venting or flaring happen? Surely the gas has more value and they’d be doing their best to capture it?
– The Environment Agency (EA) permits it because they accept arguments that amounts are small and uneconomic to capture and use. There can also be a problem in that the amounts vary.
– In some sites, the company has told the EA that not enough gas is coming from the wells to be profitable. In many locations where they are cold venting, the well is far from the processing station, so they did not build a pipeline for the gas. The oil is put into the separators, the gas is released, and the oil gets picked up with some amount of frequenting and brought to the processing facility.
– At Singleton, they have flares where they are burning gas, the emissions that Emily just showed are leaks that absolutely should not be happening. Singleton has its own Mains Electricity Heavy Duty supply… but uneconomic to feed power into grid.
– At the planning stage they often say they will do this…. but then they find it is uneconomic. Basically, the equipment will cost them money.
– In Ecuador the answer has always been it is much too expensive to build plants to capture the gas
– With soaring gas prices, long-term capture & use should be viable!
Other deliberate production of methane
Q: In ‘Manifesto’, Dale Vince, the founder of Ecotricity, proposes the deliberate production of methane as a carbon neutral energy source through the anaerobic digestion of specially grown crops of grass. He suggests that, like hydrogen, methane could be burned in standard domestic boilers. Whilst theoretically carbon neutral over a very short time cycle (approx. 6 months), would this really be a sensible strategy given the potential risk, and highly damaging potential impacts, of leakages of methane in connection with this process?
– Not a sensible strategy
– It would also mean that agricultural production for methane would be competitive against food production.
Q: Are agriculture sources too small for CATF cameras?
– Generally those emissions are well dispersed and not concentrated as in the O&G sector.
Role of SECA and campaign tactics
Q: Groups like SECA have a massive job on our hands getting government and councils to focus on CO2 emissions. Is there a danger that a methane focus could blunt the message? Is methane a public campaign issue – or more of a specialist campaign topic? If CATF could produce a campaign package for the UK then SECA could distribute the ideas to our members to approach MPs etc?
– CATF confirmed it should be possible to do. James said he had taken notes on all the comments and would incorporate it into their planning. He added they have done a lot of work with Client Earth across Europe and they have used videos and evidence across the EU for case filings.
– It would be great if SECA could organise a tour with MPs to sites in the south east.
The methane event was organised by Viviane Doussy of SECA, assisted by Erika Jakins and others. Viviane chaired the event and later edited the video recording which is now available on the SECA YouTube channel.
Whilst SECA’s further engagement and tactics are under discussion, please take action now by signing this Friends of the Earth petition against fracking – the government’s response to soaring oil and gas prices.
This Knowledge Sharing session tackled only the onshore oil and gas sector. There are other areas that cannot be neglected when thinking about methane reductions. The CATF project in the UK is ambitious and they are planning to ramp up their O&G work in the UK with a new government affairs position being filled. A lot of this work will be focused on national methane regulations and trying to reduce emissions from offshore production. Certainly, some component of this will be engagement with the grassroots movements as that will help put pressure on government from all levels. Furthermore, CATF works in partnership with Green Alliance who will be leading the work on agricultural methane emissions in the UK. As such, they will be putting together the strategy on how to engage the government and relevant industries for agriculture.
We would like to thank the organisers, speakers and our enthusiastic audience for their help in making this second of our SECA Knowledge Sharing events such a success. Anyone interested in furthering these methane discussions should please let us know through firstname.lastname@example.org.