09 Jan 2023
09 Jan 2023
Status: this preprint is open for discussion.

Satellite quantification of methane emissions and oil/gas methane intensities from individual countries in the Middle East and North Africa: implications for climate action

Zichong Chen1, Daniel J. Jacob1, Ritesh Gautam2, Mark Omara3, Robert N. Stavins4, Robert C. Stowe4, Hannah O. Nesser1, Melissa P. Sulprizio1, Alba Lorente5, Daniel J. Varon1, Xiao Lu6, Lu Shen7, Zhen Qu1, Drew C. Pendergrass1, and Sarah Hancock1 Zichong Chen et al.
  • 1School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA
  • 2Environmental Defense Fund, Washington DC, USA
  • 3Environmental Defense Fund, Austin, TX, USA
  • 4John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA
  • 5SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research, Leiden, the Netherlands
  • 6School of Atmospheric Sciences, Sun Yat-sen University, Zhuhai, Guangdong, China
  • 7Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, School of Physics, Peking University, Beijing, China

Abstract. We use 2019 TROPOMI satellite observations of atmospheric methane in an analytical inversion to quantify methane emissions from the Middle East and North Africa at up to ~25 km × 25 km resolution, using spatially allocated national UNFCCC reports as prior estimates for the fuel sector. Our resulting best estimate of anthropogenic emissions for the region is 35 % higher than the prior bottom-up estimate (+103 % for gas, +53 % for waste, +49 % for livestock, −14 % for oil) with large variability across countries. Oil and gas account for 38 % of total anthropogenic emissions in the region. TROPOMI observations can effectively optimize and separate national emissions by sector for most of the 23 countries in the region, with 6 countries accounting for most of total anthropogenic emissions including Iran (5.3 (5.0–5.5) Tg a−1; best estimate and uncertainty range), Turkmenistan (4.4 (2.8–5.1) Tg a−1), Saudi Arabia (4.3 (2.4–6.0) Tg a−1), Algeria (3.5 (2.4–4.4) Tg a−1), Egypt (3.4 (2.5–4.0) Tg a−1) , and Turkey (3.0 (2.0–4.1) Tg a−1). Most oil/gas emissions are from the production (upstream) subsector, but Iran, Turkmenistan, and Saudi Arabia have large gas emissions from transmission and distribution subsectors. We identify a high number of annual oil/gas emission hotspots in Turkmenistan, Algeria, Oman, and offshore in the Persian Gulf. We show that oil/gas methane emissions for individual countries are not related to production, invalidating a basic premise in the construction of activity-based bottom-up inventories. Instead, local infrastructure and management practices appear to be key drivers of oil/gas emissions, emphasizing the need for including top-down information from atmospheric observations in the construction of oil/gas emission inventories. We examined the methane intensity, defined as the upstream oil/gas emission per unit of methane gas produced, as a measure of the potential for decreasing emissions from the oil/gas sector, and using as reference the 0.2 % target set by industry. We find that the methane intensity in most countries is considerably higher than this target, reflecting leaky infrastructure combined with deliberate venting or incomplete flaring of gas. However, we also find that Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar meet the industry target and thus show that the target is achievable through capture of associated gas, modern infrastructure, and concentration of operations. Decreasing methane intensities across the Middle East and North Africa to 0.2 % would achieve a 90 % decrease in oil/gas upstream emissions and a 26 % decrease of total anthropogenic methane emissions in the region, making a significant contribution toward the Global Methane Pledge.

Zichong Chen et al.

Status: open (until 20 Feb 2023)

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Zichong Chen et al.


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Short summary
We quantify methane emissions from individual countries in the Middle East and North Africa by inverse analysis of 2019 TROPOMI satellite observations of atmospheric methane. We show that the ability to relate oil/gas emissions to simply activity metrics is compromised by stochastic nature of local infrastructure and management practices. We find that the industry target on oil/gas methane intensity is achievable through associated gas capture, modern infrastructure, and centralized operations.