Concurrent variation in oil and gas methane emissions and oil price during the COVID-19 pandemic


D.R. Lyon, B. Hmiel, R. Gautam, M. Omara, K.A. Roberts, Z.R. Barkley, K. J. Davis, N.L. Miles, V.C. Monteiro, S.J. Richardson, S. Conley, M.L. Smith, D.J. Jacob, L. Shen, D.J. Varon, A. Deng, X. Rudelis, N. Sharma, K.T. Story, A. R. Brandt, M. Kang, A.J. Marchese, and S.P. Hamburg. 5/3/2021. “Concurrent variation in oil and gas methane emissions and oil price during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 21, Pp. 6605-6626. DOI


Methane emissions associated with the production, transport, and use of oil and natural gas increase the climatic impacts of energy use; however, little is known about how emissions vary temporally and with commodity prices. We present airborne and ground-based data, supported by satellite observations, to measure weekly to monthly changes in total methane emissions in the United States' Permian Basin during a period of volatile oil prices associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. As oil prices declined from ∼ USD 60 to USD 20 per barrel, emissions changed concurrently from 3.3 % to 1.9 % of natural gas production; as prices partially recovered, emissions increased back to near initial values. Concurrently, total oil and natural gas production only declined by ∼ 10 % from the peak values seen in the months prior to the crash. Activity data indicate that a rapid decline in well development and subsequent effects on associated gas flaring and midstream infrastructure throughput are the likely drivers of temporary emission reductions. Our results, along with past satellite observations, suggest that under more typical price conditions, the Permian Basin is in a state of overcapacity in which rapidly growing associated gas production exceeds midstream capacity and leads to high methane emissions.