• Where Does Methane Come From? - Petrochemicals

Air Monitoring

Where Does Methane Come From? - Petrochemicals

Feb 19 2022

As one of the greenhouse gases with the highest global warming potential (GWP), methane is a chief contributor to the myriad climate change issues we face today. Although carbon dioxide is far more prevalent and persistent in our atmosphere, methane is up to 80 times more effective at retaining heat in the environment over a period of 20 years.

Fossil fuels are widely recognised as one of the chief sources of manmade methane emissions, which is why there are now comprehensive regulations surrounding their extraction and combustion in the UK, the EU and beyond. However, petrochemicals – which are products derived from the refining and process of oil and gas – often fly under the radar, yet are still responsible for substantial methane emissions.

Plastic pollution

The waste generated by the plastics industry is well-documented, but less attention is devoted to the harmful emissions created by the manufacturing of the substance itself. As well as producing copious amounts of carbon dioxide, fossil fuels like natural gas and oil are also chief sources of methane, as discussed in more detail in another article in this series.

Since methane is the primary ingredient in natural gas and found in abundant deposits within oil reserves, any drilling or extraction activities can result in the inadvertent emissions of the gas into the atmosphere. What’s more, the refining and processing of the fuels are further opportunities for methane to escape, as are leakages sustained during the distribution and storage aspect of the supply chain.

It doesn’t end there, either. Once plastics have fulfilled their purpose – which for single-use varieties, can last a mere matter of seconds – they should be reused or recycled where possible. However, all too often they end up in landfill sites, which are themselves another leading source of methane emissions. This is because the methane contained in the garbage (including both petrochemical products and organic matter) leaches out into the air over a prolonged period of time.

Insufficient regulation

It is for these reasons that monitoring methane emissions at every stage of the petrochemical process, including all supply chains and storage units, is so important. Unfortunately, national and international legislation sometimes focuses solely on the extraction and combustion aspects of fossil fuel development, meaning that the petrochemicals industry is neglected.

This has proven to be the case with recent EU draft proposals for methane emissions. The latest iteration of the Methane Regulation was published in December last year, but fell short of providing comprehensive coverage of methane emissions monitoring and control in several respects. This has prompted no little consternation among the environmental community, who have campaigned for tighter legislation going forward.

For example, the EU imports as much as 90% of its natural gas and 97% of its oil, meaning that an overwhelming majority of methane emissions associated with the industry arise from overseas suppliers. Despite this, the new regulations will not apply to imports and the supply chains by which they arrive, nor is there any mention made of the petrochemicals industry whatsoever. As such, it appears that the Methane Regulation represents a missed opportunity for the EU to clean up its methane profile more comprehensively.

To find out more about the latest developments in the methane monitoring industry, interested parties are invited to attend the upcoming Industrial Methane Measurement conference. Scheduled to take place in Rotterdam in the Netherlands on the 8th and 9th June, this event will examine all angles of the subject.

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International Environmental Technology 32.3 - May/June 2022

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