Assessing methane emissions from collapsing Venezuelan oil production using TROPOMI
Abstract. Venezuela has long been identified as an area with large methane emissions, especially in the Lake Maracaibo region with intensive oil exploitation, but production has strongly decreased in recent years. The area is notoriously difficult to observe from space due to its complex topography and persistent cloud cover. We use the unprecedented coverage of the TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI) methane observations in analytical inversions at the national scale with the Integrated Methane Inversion (IMI) framework and at regional scale with the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model. In the IMI analysis, we find 2019 Venezuelan emissions of 7.5 (5.7–9.3) Tg a-1, where about half of emissions can be informed by TROPOMI observations and emissions from oil exploitation are a factor ~1.6 higher than in bottom-up inventories. Using WRF, we find 2019 emissions of 1.2 (1.0–1.5) Tg a-1 from the Lake Maracaibo area, close to bottom-up estimates. Our WRF estimate is ~40 % lower than the regional result from the IMI due to differences in the meteorology used by the two models. We only find a small, non-significant, trend in emissions between 2018 and 2020 around the lake, implying the area's methane emission intensity expressed against oil/gas production has doubled over the time period to ~20 %. This value is much higher than what has previously been found for other oil/gas production regions and indicates there could be large emissions from abandoned infrastructure.
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