Research conducted by the University of Colorado has found that carbon intensity (CI) levels in the Mexican Gulf are over double those reported in government inventories.

Having monitored airborne greenhouse gases in the area, the research group found that levels of methane and carbon dioxide were exceptionally high when compared to previously conducted government reports.

Researchers measured CI levels by observing these two gases, producing a total of 5.3g CO₂e/M for the basin.

The research attributes “venting and loss of natural gas” as partially responsible for the high levels of greenhouse gases in the region, calling for more efficient handling of emissions.

Decisions on the expansion of oil and gas field in the Mexican Gulf legally rely on government-led climate impact assessment reports for their approval.

The Gulf of Mexico is the largest offshore fossil fuel production basin in the US. According to government data, the basin produced 1,914 thousand barrels per day in January of 2023.

According to the paper’s authors, the methods commonly used to determine the CI of an area are inaccurate because they rarely involve field research. Instead, estimates are either computed using pre-existing data or by using engineering models.

Methane measurement in US offshore operations

The authors conclude by stating that methane should be measured in all CI assessments, along with carbon dioxide, and that observation-based methods for tracking emissions should be favoured.

The paper suggests “replacing venting with efficient flaring, refurbishing or repairing dilapidated equipment, and plug and abandonment” as potential means of reducing emissions.

The research found that while carbon dioxide levels in the Mexican Gulf were more similar to government reports, mean methane levels were triple the federal and state water inventory measurements.

Methane emissions were particularly high for shallow water platforms, and are the most responsible for the gap in government reporting. Eric Kort, one of the study’s authors, calls for the direction of “mitigation efforts” to this area.

The research comes shortly after the Biden administration announced a clampdown on methane leaks from the oil and gas industry. The US Environmental Protection Agency plans to charge emitters of methane up to $1,500 a tonne under Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, which includes an Emissions Reduction Plan.