The Greenhouse Gas Protocol

Understanding fugitive emissions: definition and examples

Fugitive emissions represent a complex and critical issue in the realm of environmental management and industrial operations. Across industries ranging from oil production to chemical processing, fugitive emissions are ubiquitous, often escaping detection and management. Learn more about what they are, how to track and measure them - as well as how to prevent them in the first place.

What are fugitive emissions?

Fugitive emissions are unintentional releases of greenhouse gases, predominantly occurring due to flaws in various industrial infrastructures - for example, this could include the release of gases or vapors from pressurized equipment due to leaks and other irregularities. 

Fugitive emissions are a significant source of pollution and can include a variety of substances, depending on the industry and the materials being handled. Due to their unpredictable and diffuse nature, fugitive emissions are challenging to quantify and manage. As such, there’s generally a little less guidance around where they come from - or better still - how to manage them. 


Understanding how and where fugitive emissions occur is crucial for emission control. This will also enable organizations to define prevention strategies where they are most needed, highlighting the importance of tailored approaches in different industrial contexts. These are some examples, but it is no means an exhaustive list of how fugitive emissions can occur:

Oil and gas industry

Fugitive emissions in the oil and gas industry primarily involve methane leaks. These leaks can occur at various stages of the production process, including extraction, processing, transportation, and storage. 


In agriculture, fugitive emissions primarily include ammonia from fertilizers and livestock waste. Ammonia can volatilize into the atmosphere from applied fertilizers or from decomposing animal manure. Methane and nitrous oxide are also significant.

Chemical manufacturing

In the chemical manufacturing industry, fugitive emissions often include volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other hazardous air pollutants. These can escape from process equipment such as reactors, storage tanks, and transfer lines. In some cases, emissions result from incomplete containment or chemical reactions.

How to track and measure fugitive emissions

Tracking and measuring emissions is a critical aspect of environmental management and sustainability efforts. Accurate measurement of emissions, whether they are from industrial processes, transportation, or other sources, is essential for understanding and mitigating the impact on the environment. 

The goal is to provide a comprehensive understanding of how emissions can be quantitatively assessed, forming the basis for effective strategies to reduce environmental footprints. Fugitive emissions are assessed using a combination of direct and indirect methods. 

Direct methods

Direct methods include using portable detection equipment like infrared cameras, which visually identify leaks, and gas detectors that measure the concentration of gases in the air.

Indirect methods

Indirect methods involve calculating emissions based on equipment type, usage, and emission factors.

Fugitive emissions assessment varies based on factors like estimated source emissions, data collection difficulty, and local regulations for reporting scope 1 facility emissions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) proposes a three-tier approach:

  • Tier 1: This basic method applies average emission factors to reported oil and gas production volumes. It's suitable for areas with limited data and minor oil and gas production.
  • Tier 2: Used for measuring flared gas emissions, this approach balances associated emissions against re-injected or reused amounts to determine flared volumes.
  • Tier 3: A detailed method requiring extensive data on infrastructure and production, this approach may include direct emission measurements at the facility level.

Tier 1 is advised for low emission levels, while Tier 3 suits high emission scenarios. Both facility and supply chain levels should account for these emissions, choosing tiers based on the emission volume.

Regulations & guidelines

Alongside the day to day checks and regular upgrades to equipment, the number one way to ensure that your organization is doing what it can to track emissions is by regulatory compliance. Adhering to environmental regulations and standards is vital for systematically reducing emissions. Regulatory frameworks often provide guidelines and benchmarks for emission levels, which companies need to comply with. As an example of some relevant regulatory bodies: 

  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) -The EPA plays a significant role in regulating and providing guidelines for fugitive emissions.
  • United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) - the UNFCCC plays a crucial role in the management of greenhouse gases and fugitive emissions.
  • European Environment Agency (EEA) -  In Europe, the EEA provides data, information, and assessments on air quality, including fugitive emissions.

 Staying updated with the latest regulations and implementing required changes ensures responsible operations and reduced environmental impact.


Preventing fugitive emissions is vital for environmental protection and regulatory compliance. From advancements in technology and equipment to rigorous maintenance protocols and regulatory compliance, many organizations across various sectors are tackling the challenge of minimizing fugitive emissions. 

Regular maintenance and inspections

Regular maintenance and inspections are crucial in identifying potential leak points in equipment. By routinely checking valves, pipes, seals, and storage tanks, companies can detect and repair minor leaks before they become major issues. Scheduled maintenance helps in maintaining the integrity of the equipment, thereby reducing the chances of fugitive emissions.

Upgrading equipment

Upgrading to modern, more efficient equipment can significantly reduce fugitive emissions. Newer technologies often come with better seals and designs that minimize leak points. For instance, using double-sealed valves or low-emission compressors can prevent the escape of gases or liquids.

Improved detection methods

 Employing advanced detection methods like infrared cameras and laser technologies enhances the ability to spot leaks that are not visible to the naked eye. These technologies can quickly and accurately identify emission points, facilitating prompt repair and maintenance actions.

Employee training

Proper training of employees in best practices for emission control is essential. Workers should be educated about the importance of reducing emissions, how to operate equipment correctly, and how to respond to leaks. Regular training ensures that all personnel are aware of the protocols to follow for emission control.

Understanding these methods not only helps in environmental protection but also ensures operational efficiency and adherence to legal standards. No complying with legal standards can lead to fines, legal actions, and severe reputational damage with customers, stakeholders and investors.

As fugitive emissions fall under scope 1 emissions, they’re accounted for in the GHG Protocol’s frameworks.  Failure to effectively reduce and report fugitive emissions may result in non-compliance with the GHG Protocol standards, which can impact a company's sustainability reporting and environmental responsibility image.

How Minimum can help

Minimum can help organizations to understand their existing carbon output, and create plans to mitigate climate related risks in the future.  Our Emissions Data Platform seamlessly collects and processes emissions data from every corner of your organization and supply chain - no matter the format. Making it the ideal platform for emissions audits and all-round business intelligence. 

Learn more about how Minimum's Emission Data Platform can help to power you all the way to Net Zero today.