According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), global methane emissions in 2022 were around 580 million metric tons, which includes emissions from natural sources (around 40 percent of the total) and from human activity (around 60 percent of the total), also known as anthropogenic emissions. The largest anthropogenic source of global methane emissions is agriculture, responsible for around one quarter of total methane emissions, followed by the energy sector, which includes emissions from coal, oil, natural gas and biofuels, responsible for 23 percent of total global methane emissions. According to IEA’s latest Global Methane Tracker, the global agriculture sector released 142 million metric tons, followed by the global energy sector responsible for 133 million metric tons of methane in 2022, slightly below the amount reached in 2019. The global energy sector accounts for 37 percent of total methane emissions attributable to human activity, compared to the global agriculture sector at 40 percent. Coal, oil and natural gas were each responsible for about 40 million tons of global methane emissions last year. Another 5 million tons was emitted from end-use energy equipment. The bioenergy sector was responsible for 10 million tons. Wetlands, which environmental advocates support, are the largest single source of methane emissions.
Sources of Global Methane Emissions, 2022
(million metric tons)
U.S. Methane Emissions from Human Activity
According to the International Energy Agency, the U.S. share of total global methane emissions from human activity (anthropogenic) is 8.9 percent. Of that amount, 53 percent is from energy (oil, natural gas, coal and bioenergy), 29 percent from agriculture, 16 percent from waste, and 2 percent from other. The IEA methane emissions estimate is the highest among the 4 other estimates in its comparison and is as much as 44 percent higher in one case. In 3 of those other estimates, the U.S. agriculture sector emits more methane than the U.S. energy sector. IEA’s Fatih Birol has been targeting energy methane emissions as part of his ‘energy transition” mission.
The IEA breaks down the oil and gas estimates into upstream, gas transportation and other segments. Upstream includes all emissions from production, gathering and processing on all onshore or offshore oil and gas facilities. Gas transportation includes emissions from transmission and distribution of gas by pipelines or as liquefied natural gas (LNG) and regasification. Other segments include refining, oil transport and emissions related to the consumption of oil and gas.
Methane emissions from coal production are separated for steam coal (mostly used for power generation) and coking coal (mostly for industry use). Other sources from coal include those associated with the production of lignite and peat, and emissions related to coal consumption by end-users.
Methane emissions from bioenergy include sources from the supply and use of biogases, biodiesel and other liquid biofuels, as well as solid bioenergy, such as pellets, fuelwood and agricultural residues.
U.S. Policies to Reduce Methane Emissions in the Energy Sector
The U.S. energy sector is under attack to reduce its emissions of methane. During the Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Scotland in 2021, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry and President Biden led an effort for countries to agree to reduce methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030 from 2020 levels, called the Global Methane Pledge. As such, the United States has attacked methane emissions from this sector with a vengeance. The Inflation Reduction Act includes a methane emissions reduction program that imposes a fee on energy producers that exceed a certain level of methane emissions. The fee, which increases from $900 per metric ton in 2024 to $1,500 per metric ton of methane emissions in 2026 and thereafter, is the first time the federal government has directly imposed a fee, or tax, on greenhouse gas emissions. One estimate indicates that natural gas bills would increase by 17 percent on average due to the fee.
A tax is not the only vehicle used by the Biden administration reduce these emissions; both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Bureau of Land Management have regulatory actions in play. The EPA issued a methane rule in 2021 and then tightened that rule last year at COP27. The supplemental proposed rule regulating methane emissions from the oil and natural gas industries includes all drilling sites—new wells, existing wells and even smaller wells that emit less than 3 tons of methane per year. The new proposal also requires operators to respond to credible third-party reports of high-volume methane leaks. These more stringent requirements result in a near doubling of the economic costs, which are estimated to produce a 13 percentage point increase in reduced emissions from 2005 levels by 2030, and, of course, will increase bills for consumers.
BLM’s proposal would tighten limits on gas flaring on federal land and require energy companies to better detect methane leaks. The rule would impose monthly limits on flaring and charge fees for flaring that exceeds those limits. BLM estimates that its new rules on methane will cost oil and gas companies around $122 million per year to implement, but will receive $55 million per year in sales of recovered gas. Oil drillers usually flare (burn-off) natural gas produced as a byproduct to oil when they lack pipelines to move it to market or when prices are too low to make transporting it worthwhile. A study of the flaring of natural gas from wells in the United States by consultant Rystad Energy determined that infrastructure capacity limits are the greatest use of flaring gas that cannot be captured. The government could reduce flaring by streamlining the permitting of pipelines, but it has not done so. The Biden Administration is making it more difficult to build pipelines, not easier.
According to the IEA, 60 percent of global methane emissions are from human activity, of which agriculture is the largest global emitter, followed by the global energy sector consisting of oil, natural gas, coal and biofuels. Despite the agriculture sector being the primary emitter in the world, IEA estimates that the energy sector is the largest methane emitter in the United States, whose methane emissions from human activity total 8.9 percent of global methane emissions from human activity. The United States has signed onto the Global Methane Pledge that commits to reducing methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030 from 2020 levels. To do that, the Biden administration is attacking the U.S. oil and gas sector with a tax on its methane emissions as well as proposed regulations from the EPA and the BLM. The tax and the regulations will increase the cost of operations and increase the cost of energy for Americans. Because the Biden administration has ignored pleas to increase pipelines to reduce flaring, its approach is punitive.
Three of the 5 estimates of U.S. methane emissions in IEA’s comparison, however, show the U.S. agriculture sector emitting more methane emissions than the U.S. energy sector. Americans should be clear that the Biden administration will attack the U.S. food supply and the farmers who provide it next after it does what it can to wreck the U.S. energy system.