EXCLUSIVE Scientists detect second ‘large’ methane leak at Mexico’s Pemex oilfield

MEXICO CITY, Sept 2 (Reuters) – Satellites recorded another major methane leak at an offshore platform owned by Pemex in Mexico in August, according to exclusive data shared with Reuters, even as pressure mounts on the company national oil company to reduce these emissions.

Three satellites recorded images of methane plumes over the Ku-Maloob-Zaap oil field in the Gulf of Mexico for six days between August 5 and August 29, said Polytechnic University scientist Itziar Irakulis-Loitxate of Valencia.

During these days, some 44,064 tons of methane were released into the atmosphere by the Zaap oil field in another “ultraemission”, estimated Irakulis-Loitxate. This is equivalent to 3.7 million tons of CO2.

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Reuters was unable to determine the cause of the leak, but experts expressed concern about the ailing infrastructure.

It comes after a peer-reviewed research paper in June, of which Irakulis-Loitxate was lead author, found a massive methane leak last December in the same group of oilfields, the largest production volume from Mexico. Read more

The work is part of a larger study funded by the European Space Agency, in which scientists are working to detect and quantify man-made emissions from space.

Methane, the main component of natural gas, is considered a much more potent contributor to short-term global warming than carbon dioxide because it traps more heat in the atmosphere.

Pemex and the Department of Energy did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is under increasing pressure to clean up the operations of Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMX.UL), as it is officially called the world’s most indebted oil company.

Lopez Obrador has lobbied for Pemex to increase oil production, but critics warn the campaign is causing an environmental disaster with the company’s aging infrastructure and underinvestment. Read more

In June, the president promised to tackle methane emissions from the oil and gas sector after meeting with the US president’s special climate envoy, John Kerry.

Opposition Senator Xochitl Galvez, with whom Reuters shared the findings, said she would file a further complaint with a government watchdog and environmental regulators over the matter.

Galvez demanded an independent investigation and also filed complaints with the watchdog and regulators following Reuters’ June story about the earlier methane leak.

“It’s really alarming what’s happening,” Galvez said. “Pemex should be stripped of its mining rights.”

Natural gas that comes to the surface as a by-product of oil exploration and production is routinely flared or flared to reduce the harmful impact of methane on the environment.

But the direct release of methane on this scale is unusual and catastrophic for the environment, experts said.

The release of natural gas directly into the atmosphere, or venting, is illegal under Mexico’s hydrocarbon law; it is only allowed if done for security reasons.

Irakulis-Loitxate said Pemex vented “large amounts of methane” when the torch was not lit.

“In December the flaring stopped and they vented gas almost constantly for 17 days,” she said. “This time, however, they vented and flared gas intermittently for the entire month.”

Irakulis-Loitxate said the data does not establish whether it has been fixed.

To get a fuller picture of the event, she then assessed another set of data taken by a fourth satellite which detects radiation from the fire and provides daily data. It fills in the gaps where there is no information from other satellites.

During periods of gas venting, the satellite did not detect radiation that would have been emitted by the flares, she said, confirming that the flare was indeed extinguished.

Pemex has not publicly addressed the findings. Two sources familiar with the operations, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed to Reuters that the platform was having issues.

The share of natural gas that comes to the surface as a by-product is increasing as older fields, such as those in the Gulf of Mexico, are depleted.

Oil reservoir geologists said this poses operational challenges – and more natural gas is wasted as a result.

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Reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher Editing by Stephen Eisenhammer, Christian Plumb and Nick Zieminski

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

. EXCLUSIVE scientists detect one second extensive leak methane on oilfield Pemex Mexico

. EXCLUSIVE Scientists detect large methane leak Mexicos Pemex oilfield

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