The World Needs to Get Serious About Methane Emissions

Carl Pope
3 min readApr 29, 2024

Just five months ago at COP28 in Dubai, the United States — along with every country that imports LNG from the Permian Basin — signed a pledge to clean up more than 80% of the methane flaring and leaking into the atmosphere from oil and gas extraction.

It was one big pledge that gave hope to curbing the damage done by this dangerous greenhouse gas. But in the months since that pledge was signed, essentially nothing has been done to turn that pledge into action.

Two examples from the past few weeks illustrate how far the world has to go to live up to the oil industry’s global methane pledge.

Texas oil drillers are already showing the rest of us how to ride roughshod over the rules. Last week, in the marketing hub for methane gas in the state’s Permian Basin, gas pipelines were so clogged that the price of gas went negative. Amazingly, oil drillers would pay pipeline operators to burn off the gas coming out alongside crude in their wells because they didn’t have space for it on a pipeline.

This shortage of pipelines to transport gas from the Permian to consumers is not new. So much extra gas is pumped out of wells in the Permian that the field is one of the world’s dirtiest in terms of explosive, toxic and climate disruptive fugitive methane. There is no surprise here — the drillers know exactly how many wells are being drilled and how much methane comes out of them –and they know how much will come out of them in the months to come.

Call it the ‘Driller’s Dilemma,’ because it can be compared to the business of homebuilding. Imagine if you ran a large homebuilding company but you ran out of pipes that can carry waste from the toilet to the sewer. If that happened, you can’t sell the houses you’ve built. Housing codes require it.

The oil and gas wildcatter’s solution are different because there is no effective code that they need to follow. They can simply dump methane into their backyard or incinerate it in open air flares that spew toxins and greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. If the US were to successfully implement the methane pledge, the government would be writing and implementing rules against this globe-warming practice.

Sadly, the Permian is not the only place where methane clean-up efforts have stalled.

In Germany, which prides itself on being a climate leader, a new analysis has found methane leaking out of mines and fissures in German coal fields are an alarming 22–122 times the rates being reported to the UN by Bonn. Using one mid-range estimate of how bad the situation is, the methane leaking from Germany’s coal fields will heat the planet in 2030 more than 20 million tons of CO2 — a greater warming impact than the whole country of Panama.

These warning signs signal a fundamental lack of global urgency to eliminate wasteful, dangerous,and toxic methane leaks from sloppy mining and extraction practices by coal and oil interests. The world signed important commitments at the Dubai summit: now it needs to urgently construct a mechanism that deals with this massive climate challenge.

We have the tools to prevent the reckless release of methane into our atmosphere — let’s use them. It’s beyond time to get real results to protect our planet and it starts by taking serious action on methane now.



Carl Pope

A veteran leader in the environmental movement, former executive director & chairman Sierra Club and Senior Climate Advisor to Michael Bloomberg