10 Nov 2022
10 Nov 2022
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal ACP.

Continuous weekly monitoring of methane emissions from the Permian Basin by inversion of TROPOMI satellite observations

Daniel J. Varon1,2, Daniel J. Jacob1, Benjamin Hmiel3, Ritesh Gautam3, David R. Lyon3, Mark Omara3, Melissa Sulprizio1, Lu Shen4, Drew Pendergrass1, Hannah Nesser1, Zhen Qu1, Zachary R. Barkley5, Natasha L. Miles5, Scott J. Richardson5, Kenneth J. Davis5,6, Sudhanshu Pandey7, Xiao Lu8, Alba Lorente9, Tobias Borsdorff9, Joannes D. Maasakkers9, and Ilse Aben9 Daniel J. Varon et al.
  • 1School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, United States
  • 2GHGSat, Inc., Montréal, H2W 1Y5, Canada
  • 3Environmental Defense Fund, Washington DC, United States
  • 4Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, School of Physics, Peking University, Beijing, China
  • 5Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, United States
  • 6Earth and Environmental Systems Institute, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, United States
  • 7Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, United States
  • 8School of Atmospheric Sciences, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, China
  • 9SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research, Leiden, The Netherlands

Abstract. We quantify weekly methane emissions at 0.25°×0.3125° (≈25×25 km2) resolution from the Permian Basin, the largest oil production basin in the United States, by inverse analysis of satellite observations from the TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI) from May 2018 to October 2020. The mean oil and gas emission from the region (± standard deviation of weekly estimates) was 3.7 ± 0.9 Tg a-1, higher than previous TROPOMI inversion estimates that may have used too-low prior emissions or biased background assumptions. We find strong week-to-week variability in emissions superimposed on longer-term trends, and these are consistent with independent inferences of temporal emission variability from tower, aircraft, and multispectral satellite data. New well development and local natural gas spot price were significant drivers of variability in emissions over our study period, but the concurrent 50 % increase in oil and gas production was not. The methane intensity (methane emitted per unit of methane gas produced) averaged 4.6 % ± 1.3 % and steadily decreased over the period from 5–6 % in 2018 to 3–4 % in 2020. While the decreasing trend suggests improvement in operator practices during the study period, methane emissions from the Permian Basin remained high, with methane intensity an order of magnitude above recent industry targets of <0.2 %. Our success in using TROPOMI satellite observations for weekly estimates of emissions from a major oil production basin shows promise for application to near-real-time monitoring in support of climate change mitigation efforts.

Daniel J. Varon et al.

Status: open (until 22 Dec 2022)

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Daniel J. Varon et al.

Daniel J. Varon et al.


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Short summary
Over 100 countries plan to cut their methane emissions by 30 % this decade under the 2021 Global Methane Pledge. The oil and gas industry is a high priority for emission reductions, but the temporal variability of oil/gas methane emissions is poorly understood. We used satellite observations to quantify weekly oil/gas methane emissions from the U.S. Permian Basin. We find that Permian emissions are highly variable and stronger than previously known, with diverse economic and activity drivers.