The Oilfield That Made the Ocean Burn Last Year Is Now Spewing Methane

The Ku-Maloob-Zaap oilfield in the Gulf of Mexico released a shocking amount of the greenhouse gas methane last month, a new report finds.

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The oilfield on fire in July 2021.
The oilfield on fire in July 2021.
Screenshot: Televisa Veracruz on Twitter

A huge oilfield in the Gulf of Mexico, which caused a hellish fire in the ocean last year, has been releasing massive amounts of planet-warming methane. Reuters reported last week on satellite data that shows that the Ku-Maloob-Zaap oilfield leaked 44,064 tons of methane into the atmosphere over the course of 24 days in August. That’s the equivalent of 3.7 million tons of carbon dioxide—what 653,106 homes emit by using electricity over the course of one year.

Researchers with the European Space Agency found that the platform released around the same amount in another ultra-emission event in December 2021. That’s around 3% of Mexico’s average annual emissions.

“In December, the flaring shut down, and they were venting gas almost constantly for 17 days,” Itziar Irakulis-Loitxate, a scientist from the Polytechnic University of Valencia and the lead author of the paper, told Reuters. “This time, however, they have been venting and flaring gas intermittently during the whole month.”

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If the platform’s unusual name rings any bells, it’s probably because this is the oilfield that dramatically caught fire last summer, making images of a doomsday-looking crater of flame on the ocean go viral. The fire began after an underground pipeline ruptured.

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The platform is owned by Pemex, Mexico’s state-owned and operated oil and gas company. While neither Reuters nor the ESA researchers could confirm the cause of either methane leak, previous reports suggest Pemex has a long history of not taking care of its aging oil and gas infrastructure, including at Ku-Maloob-Zaap. There were around 100 deaths attributable to accidents on Pemex sites between 2010 and 2017, according to research firm Statista.

While methane doesn’t stay in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide, it is around 80 times more potent and can wreak serious havoc on the climate in the short term. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its landmark report last year for the first time noted that rising global methane emissions are posing a big problem for short- and long-term climate goals. Oil and gas production is one of the world’s biggest sources of methane emissions, thanks in large part to venting and flaring the gas during drilling and recovery.

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In June, Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, said Pemex will invest $2 billion to try to almost completely eliminate methane emissions from the oil and gas sector; Mexico is also part of a global pledge to cut methane emissions 30% by 2030. The World Bank’s annual Global Gas Flaring Tracker found that Mexico is one of the top 10 flaring countries in the world and one of three that has seen flaring increase over the past few years.

Pemex did not respond to Reuters’s request for comment. Earther has reached out to the company for comment, and we will update this article if we hear back.