The oil and gas methane emission debate

The oil and gas methane emission debate

March 07, 2017

If you work in the oil and gas industry, you may have heard of the US Environmental Protection Association’s (EPA) impending QuadOa regulations to reduce the level of greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted by the oil and gas industry.

But today, how these regulations will be implemented is less clear due to US administration changes.

Natural gas’ reputation as the ‘clean’ fossil fuel remains because it emits around half of the CO2 of burning coal. But, this ignores the methane issue – which is stated to be more than 80 times more potent than CO2. This means that until methane emissions are fully monitored, controlled and reduced, the position of natural gas as a ‘greener’ fossil fuel substitute is open to serious question.

Developing an organised approach to reducing methane emissions is in the best interests of operators from a safety, cost, and reputational perspective. This is something that national and international regulators have long recognized. A few months after the EPA published it regulations, the five Nordic states in Europe committed to developing a target to reduce oil and gas methane emissions. Mexico and Canada have also both committed to reducing methane emissions by 45 per cent.

It’s clear that for reasons of safety, environmental protection, and operational efficiency, oil and gas methane emissions must be better controlled. This includes both planned and unplanned emissions. At Opgal, we recommend a three-step approach:

  • Step one. Ensure new systems are designed with continuous monitoring and catastrophe prevention in place. This will help to mitigate against serious events such as the 100,000-ton methane leak in Aliso Canyon, Los Angeles in 2015.
  • Two. Build or modify systems so they emit less and prevent losses. We’re seeing new and modified plants incorporating vapor recovery systems that use the excess gas for pneumatic pumps and valves. Often, existing emissions sources aren’t well documented and a site survey is the only way to identify them.
  • Three. Manage repairs more effectively. In any facility where there are thousands of connections, seals and vents, a gas leak is inevitable. Leak detection and repair (LDAR) systems that enable early identification and swift action in hazardous environments are essential. Aliso Canyon was a big story, but the more common culprit is a faulty valve on a well-side storage tank.

While the first step above requires long-term investment, the second and third are much quicker and easier to address.

One way to do this is for operators to include optical gas imaging (OGI) in their maintenance regimes, particularly in hazardous locations. By using an infrared thermal-imaging camera, these portable and remote OGI devices enable operators to safely identify hydrocarbon leaks at their exact source, even when volume is relatively low.

In fact, OGI is so effective that it has been defined by the European Parliament Commission as the best available technique for emission reduction. And OGI-focused regulation is coming to China and Canada too. For truly global operators, implementing a standard OGI solution is the smart thing to do to ensure safe, efficient and cost-effective operations.

Even as details around regulations change, LDAR is likely to remain and be implemented by more countries worldwide. And with oil prices still at the lower end of the curve, margins are tough to maintain. Therefore, OGI is the common-sense, cost effective technology to help enhance operations, maintain safety records, and avoid major pollution.

What do you think the next step to combating oil and gas methane emissions will be?