The aircraft taking measurements was able to cover about 100 times more sites than previous ground surveys. By flying over active wells and pipelines in the New Mexico portion of the basin, the plane detected 1,985 plumes of methane in 15 months.
In addition to discovering higher levels of methane leakage than expected, the study also identified some mega-emitting sites. About 5% of the plumes detected by the aircraft were responsible for more than half of the measured emissions.
The findings contribute to: calling for tightening methane regulations for oil and gas producers. At the time this data was collected, from 2018 to 2020, oil production was increasing rapidly and the area’s regulations were looser than it is today. New Mexico recently passed legislation prohibit routine flaring of excess natural gas. Stronger federal policies are still needed to cut emissions in other oil-producing states like Texas, says Jon Goldsteina senior policy director at the Environmental Defense Fund.
In any case, the new findings show how extensive studies can shed light on methane emissions, which are often poorly understood even in large oil and gas basins like the Permian. As governments continue to focus on emissions, identifying problem spots can be a useful first step.