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Upstream Emissions

Proponents of fossil fuel projects may make claims about the upstream and midstream emissions intensity of proposed fossil fuel projects, using low estimates of emissions intensity to support the proposed project. They may also make claims about the upstream and midstream emissions intensity of other projects, as part of a claim that such other projects would substitute for the output and emissions of the proposed project should it not proceed (see our category page on Market Substitution). 

These claims are amenable to evaluation by empirical evidence. The article by Masnadi et al (2018) models well-to-refinery carbon intensity of major active oil fields, which can be used to verify or challenge claims about the emissions intensity of specific oilfields. The article also discusses the importance of regulating various processes within the extractive activity for minimising upstream emissions. Accordingly, where a project will not be rejected, the article can be used to advocate for the imposition of stringent conditions on the project’s permit to ensure the lowest upstream carbon intensity can be achieved.  

Proponents of the development of new natural gas projects also claim that the lower carbon intensity of this fossil fuel means that it will continue to play a stronger role in future energy scenarios, including energy transition scenarios, than other fossil fuels. However, often such arguments do not account for the role of methane emissions from upstream operations. Recent studies have highlighted the large contribution to methane emissions from the extraction, processing and distribution of natural gas. The IEA’s Global Methane Tracker 2023 breaks down the energy sector’s contribution to methane emissions, looking at oil, gas, and coal. Hmiel et al (2020), Lauvaux et al (2022), and Alvarez et al (2018) demonstrate how traditional greenhouse gas inventories may not fully capture the contribution the energy sector makes to methane emissions, providing a technical basis to more accurately measure this contribution worldwide. They also canvass mitigation measures that can be imposed via permits for fossil fuel infrastructure to minimise the amount of methane emissions fossil fuel activities cause. 

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