Academia and Industry Partner to Drive Down Methane Emissions
Posted October 27, 2020
With a high-tech workforce and a future-focused approach, America’s natural gas and oil industry is delivering on its commitment to sustainability and climate solutions. Energy operators are continuously improving environmental performance and working to lower greenhouse gas emissions – and groundbreaking technologies are making the difference.
API member companies are driving research and development on innovative concepts, like carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS), and industry leaders are collaborating to address emissions of methane and volatile organic compounds in America’s largest energy producing regions.
Since 2017, The Environmental Partnership has provided leadership on industry-driven efforts to tackle the dual challenges of supplying affordable, reliable energy while making significant environmental progress. The program encourages the phase out of high-bleed, gas-driven pneumatic controller use to mitigate methane emissions in natural gas production.
Vanessa Ryan, chair of The Environmental Partnership and manager of carbon reduction at Chevon, on the industry’s latest technologies:
“Natural gas and oil companies use a variety of tools to help prevent methane emissions, including using advanced optical imaging cameras and drones equipped with infrared sensors to find leaks, so they can quickly be repaired. Their efforts are paying off.”
Last year, more than 87,000 participating sites were surveyed, demonstrating a leak occurrence rate of 0.08%. The rapidly expanding coalition continues to promote cost-effective upgrades, pathways for new technologies and cross-sector partnerships with scientists, engineers and industry-affiliated problem solvers.
For example, The Environmental Partnership and its participants have provided funding for the Methane Emissions Technology Evaluation Center (METEC) at Colorado State University, where researchers develop and assess methane sensing technologies. METEC’s projects are focused on reducing methane leaks, minimizing safety risks and improving the efficiency of natural gas development, using low-cost and reliable solutions.
METEC Director and Principal Investigator Dan Zimmerle explained the center’s alignment with the broader natural gas and oil industry:
“The real answer to natural gas emissions will be structural changes to the development of wells and pipelines, designing them from the beginning to be low emissions and easy to monitor. These innovations are part of a larger narrative in the industry…they’re thinking about how to better deliver energy in a way that is better for the environment and also drives progress.”
Individual API member companies are also field testing their own next-generation, methane-monitoring technologies with promising results. ExxonMobil is conducting trials on eight emerging innovations for detecting emissions, including satellite and aerial surveillance as well as truck-mounted and fixed-position monitoring.
ExxonMobil’s Senior Vice President of Unconventional Staale Gjervik said:
“We are applying scientific rigor and taking aggressive steps to find commercially scalable and affordable solutions for all operators…Through the trials, we have discovered methane sources that would otherwise not have been detected as efficiently or quickly under the current methods prescribed by regulations”
These state-of-the-art technologies are currently being analyzed at nearly 1,000 sites across Texas and New Mexico, supporting ExxonMobil’s corporate-wide commitment to reduce methane emissions by 15% and natural gas flaring by 25% by the end of this year.
Similarly, BP – which has planned to install methane measurement systems at every processing site by 2023 – has partnered with Kairos Aerospace to deploy aircraft mounted high-resolution infrared imaging devices. The effort to “map and cap” emissions involves surveying hundreds of square miles of infrastructure daily, enabling teams on the ground to efficiently repair leaks and properly maintain natural gas and oil systems.
Through ongoing collaborations with universities and private-sector partners as well as industry-led coalitions – like the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative – U.S. energy operators continue to advance the development of innovative technologies to improve the safety, sustainability and environmental performance of natural gas and oil facilities around the world.
Thanks to the industry’s steadfast commitment to achievable climate solutions, America’s energy future will feature affordable, reliable and ever-cleaner natural gas and oil.
For more information on joining or partnering with The Environmental Partnership, visit here.
About The Author
Lem Smith is API’s vice-president for Upstream Policy & Industry Operations. Lem joined API in February 2020 after serving as a Principal at Squire Patton Boggs, an international law and public-policy firm, where he advised private and public sector clients upon federal and multi-state policy matters and provided counsel on communications strategies, campaign affairs and crises management. Previously, Lem was director, U.S. Government & Regulatory Affairs at Encana, and responsible for all aspects of U.S. government relations and regulatory policy matters at the state and federal levels. Prior to that, Lem was director of Government Relations for Kerr-McGee Corporation. Lem began his career on Capitol Hill, working for U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker (MS) and the late U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood (GA), where he negotiated key member priorities within the 2005 Energy Policy Act (EPAct). Lem is a graduate of the University of Mississippi.