Methane leaks from Turkmenistan gas fields a huge threat to climate

10 May 2023 3 min. read
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Methane leaks from Turkmenistan’s gas fields contributed more to global warming in 2022 than the entire UK, satellite data shows. The scale of the problem is staggering – but fixable, according to experts that are urging immediate action.

Major methane leaks from Turkmenistan’s two main gas fields were found to be equivalent to 366 million tons of CO2, making the ex-Soviet Central Asian country the worst emitter in the world.

Data from Paris-based geo-analytics firm Kayrros has shown that methane leaks at Turkmenistan’s two main gas fields released around 4.4 million tons of methane into the atmosphere in 2022. Experts have urged the government to stop the gas leaks, which if harnessed, could represent a great opportunity.

Methane leaks from Turkmenistan gas fields a huge threat to climate

Kayrros was able to estimate the amount of methane emitted by analyzing satellite data since 2019. The company also detected over 800 additional super-emitting events, or in other words, significant leaks from tanks, pipes, or other infrastructure.

Private sector leaders in Turkmenistan have so far shown little inclination to stop the leaks, though some diplomatic pressure has reportedly been applied to attempt to get authorities to stop the emissions. Despite the scale of the leaks, the problem would be relatively easy to fix, experts told the Guardian.

The government has been similarly slow in addressing the so-called ‘Gateway to hell’, a 70 meter-wide gas field cavern that has been burning off methane continuously for decades. More than a year has passed with no action after a pledge from President Berdymukhamedov to extinguish the harmful fires. The burning crater, found in an isolated desert area, has become a favorite destination for off-the-beaten-path tourists.

Kayrros CEO Antoine Rostand said that he “doesn’t see a downward trend” in methane releases that would align with the Global Methane Pledge, which aims to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030 as compared to 2020 levels.

The Global Methane Pledge is a non-binding international agreement launched during the COP26 climate change conference in 2021. Led by the EU and US, it set the goal of coordinating 111 countries to reduce global methane pollution, which is thought to be responsible for around 30% of the global increase in temperature seen since the 20th century industrial revolution.

“Methane is responsible for almost half of short-term warming [of the climate] and has absolutely not been managed up to now – it was completely out of control,” said Rostand.

“We know where the super emitters are and who is doing it. We just need the policymakers and investors to do their job, which is to crack down on methane emissions,” he added.

Turkmenistan, sometimes called the ‘North Korea of Central Asia’, was ruled by an authoritarian leader for 15 long years who was only just recently succeeded by his son in a sham election. The flashy capital city Ashgabat was decked out to suit the whims of the former dictator with ostentatious monuments and the highest density of white marble found anywhere in the world. It was found to be the world’s most expensive city to live in, according to a cost of living index from 2021.