Argentina’s Transportadora de Gas del Norte defended the intentional release of methane directly into the atmosphere during planned pipeline work. The cloud of greenhouse gas had the same short-term warming impact as the annual emissions from about 12,000 US cars.
A spokesperson for the company, which transports about 40% of the country’s piped fossil gas, said the overall volumes emitted were relatively usual by industry standards and that it was unfair to draw attention to the releases when other fossil-fuel operators routinely leak the potent greenhouse gas.
TGN is the latest example of an oil and gas company that may be able to do more to curb methane emissions, a greenhouse gas with 84 times the warming capacity of carbon dioxide during its first two decades in the atmosphere. The International Energy Agency has said these companies must severely curtail or eliminate non-emergency releases of methane to avoid the worst of climate change.
TGN said it released about 600,000 standard cubic meters of gas on May 30 and fewer than 400,000 standard cubic meters on June 6, when 19-mile sections of two separate pipelines were emptied to make them safe for workers to inspect and repair. Up to 90% of emissions from so-called pipeline blowdowns can be eliminated through techniques like burning the gas through a flare.
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The company said that lowering the pressure of the gas, rather than fully venting it, wasn’t an option because it would have made the work dangerous. The spokesperson said they didn’t know why the gas wasn’t flared.
The plumes were also observed by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5P satellite. The May 30 release had an estimated emissions rate of 120 metric tons of methane an hour, according to global geo-analytics company Kayrros SAS. The second plume had an estimated rate of 57 tons an hour. TGN said the bigger May 30 release lasted less than two hours.