| 18 April 2024, Thursday |

Mexican methane leak rate ‘alarming’ for climate change, report says

According to a group of academics, Mexico’s methane leak rate from oil and gas activities is twice as high as that of the world’s top oil producer, the United States, according to a paper expected out this week.

Climate change specialists believe methane, which is invisible and odorless but considerably more destructive than carbon dioxide, is a primary cause of global warming.

As a byproduct of the oil and gas sector, methane is produced in Mexico and abroad. It is the most abundant component of natural gas and can be utilized as a fuel for power plants and home purposes if caught.

Daniel Zavala, a senior scientist specializing in methane emissions from the global oil and gas system at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a U.S. non-profit advocacy group, has long studied Mexico’s emissions.

The Mexican results compare with a rate of 2.3% for all of the United States and 3.7% in the Permian basin, the largest U.S. region of crude oil production, located in West Texas and an adjoining area of southeastern New Mexico.

“It’s a huge gap,” said Zavala in an interview ahead of the report’s publication due on Wednesday. “Cutting these emissions in half would have the same climate benefit over 20 years as removing one third of total passenger cars in the country.”

The research focused on eastern Mexico, where almost all the country’s oil and gas production – and related methane emissions – take place.

The leak rate is a formula that divides total oil and gas methane emissions by total natural gas production. The calculation includes all sources of methane emissions from the industry: leaks, vents and flaring.

Together with 12 other climate change scientists, Zavala studied 20 months of data gathered between 2018 and 2019 by the Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument, a single sensor on board the Copernicus Sentinel-5 Precursor, a European Space Agency satellite.

Zavala called the latest findings “alarming and worrying.”

Using new technology, scientists are only gradually building a fuller picture of methane emissions globally, including of abandoned oil wells and landfills.

Reuters was unable to determine whether the problem has improved or worsened under Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who took office at the end of 2018.

But the study estimates 1.3 million tons of methane is wasted in Mexico per year, about one third of the nation’s natural gas imports and equivalent to $200 million.


To blame for Mexico’s poor record are mostly high emissions at midstream facilities that gather, compress, and process the gas, the report says. Another culprit is venting, the practice of releasing gas from oil wells without capturing it. A third source is flaring, or burning gas at the wells.

“While flaring is a big source of methane emissions, and our measurements showed that it’s higher than what the government and industry reports, it’s not enough to explain the emissions we measured,” Zavala said.

“The findings point to other key sources of methane emissions: venting from wells and midstream facilities handling the offshore gas.”

While governments around the world do not usually report leak rate figures, scientists can estimate the leak rate by looking at reported emissions and reported production.

Neither Pemex nor the energy ministry responded to requests for comment but have previously publicly acknowledged maintenance issues.


According to the United Nations, methane emissions have been responsible for roughly 30% of global warming since the pre-industrial era.

According to Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environmental Programme, tackling methane emissions is “the strongest lever we have to halt climate change over the next 25 years.”

Methane is significantly more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, but it only lasts approximately a decade in the atmosphere.

Scientists and current and former Mexican energy regulators told Reuters capturing more of the gas as a fuel could allow the government of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to become more energy independent while tackling a climate menace.

Requests for comment to the president’s office were not immediately returned.

In a declaration earlier this year, US President Joe Biden and Lopez Obrador emphasized the importance of addressing short-lived climate pollutants.

About a quarter of Mexico’s man-made methane emissions come from oil and gas, with the rest coming from landfills and garbage, as well as agricultural, primarily cattle.

  • Reuters