Peatlands are globally significant sources of atmospheric methane (CH4). In the northern hemisphere, extensive geologic exploration activities have occurred to map petroleum deposits. In peatlands, these activities result in soil compaction and wetter conditions, changes that are likely to enhance CH4 emissions. To date, this effect has not been quantified. Here we map petroleum exploration disturbances on peatlands in Alberta, Canada, where peatlands and oil deposits are widespread. We then estimate induced CH4 emissions. By our calculations, at least 1900 km2 of peatland have been affected, increasing CH4 emissions by 4.4–5.1 kt CH4 yr−1 above undisturbed conditions. Not currently estimated in Canada’s national reporting of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, inclusion would increase current emissions from land use, land use change and forestry by 7–8%. However, uncertainty remains large. Research further investigating effects of petroleum exploration on peatland GHG fluxes will allow appropriate consideration of these emissions in future peatland management.