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Global Methane Pledge: Who Ya Gonna Call?

Moving the needle with the urgency required to deliver on the Global Methane Pledge announced at COP26 requires us to “lean in” to cut methane emissions that are fully within our control across our operations.

Vector equirectangular projection world map. Layered and grouped for easy editing.
Source: Getty Images.

Josh Etkind, Johana Dunlop, David Shackleton, Jim Crompton, Aime Fournier, Jackson Hegland, Robert Kleinberg, and Silviu Livescu

Many JPT readers may remember the 1984 comedy movie, Ghostbusters, starring a trio of ghost-catchers intent on saving the world, and its equally popular theme song, “Who ya gonna call?”

Upon hearing the Global Methane Pledge (GMP) announced at COP26 in October, wherein more than 100 countries committed to reduce methane emissions from all human-caused sources by 30% and by 75% for all fossil fuel sources from 2020 levels by 2030, the first question that sprang to many a mind was, “Just how was this highly ambitious and aspirational pledge going to be delivered and by whom?”

Thus, a response to “Who ya gonna call?” is “1-800-SPE-Members” and the members of our sister societies. SPE, as the technical home for more than 140,000 oil and gas professionals, can play an important role as a force in scaling the key ready-to-deploy collaborative efforts. SPE can help aggregate these efforts and extend their reach by sharing vital technical, regulatory, and social knowledge.

In just 6 short months this year, methane rose from obscurity to a headline item at COP26. It has become a noisy space that can appear confusing to navigate even for some of its players. Our industry has already made substantial progress on fugitive methane abatement driven from within. As cited by the API Environmental Partnership, US methane emissions have been reduced by 70% in the past decade. Europe has achieved similar results and there are efforts ongoing in all regions, but reporting is still immature. If natural gas is to retain its imperative role in the energy transition, leaks, venting, and flaring must be eliminated, such that the gas remains a fuel of choice rather than a waste product.

If we all put a shoulder behind this, we can move the needle with the urgency required to deliver on the GMP. Imagine the headlines you’d like to see coming from COP28 in the UAE when progress is assessed against this target.

This article intends to help us all “lean in” to cut methane emissions that are fully within our control across our operations. More than 70% of current fossil fuel emissions can be avoided with existing technology, 45% profitably or at neutral cost (IEA 2021). This does not mean it will be easy. We have dilemmas to face to ensure the problem is solved without creating unintended consequences such as higher NOX/SOX emissions. NOX has a greenhouse warming potential of almost 300 times that of CO2 over a 100-year period and it reduces ozone in the upper atmosphere, allowing in more harmful UV-B radiation.

Profit margins may be boosted as well. Oil and gas certified as net zero by third parties such as MiQ, Veritas, CarbonSig, et. al. have fetched higher than the market prices, suggesting a fast-emerging differentiated commodity market. Certified gas will command a premium and will comply with the fast-emerging Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanisms.

In a world where almost a billion people still do not have access to energy, it is essential to ensure every methane molecule we work so hard to find and produce becomes a source of benefit to consumers.

The GMP is a call to action, a call for active collaboration. The SPE Gaia cross-disciplinary program is helping to inform and coordinate industry efforts.

What Is SPE Gaia?

Following decades of effort to integrate sustainability into all SPE activities and programs, SPE established the Sustainable Development Technical Section (SDTS) to facilitate knowledge sharing and event building, often in collaboration with other industry associations and relevant NGOs.

Subsequently, industry thought leaders were brought together at the SPE Gaia Summit in 2019 which hosted 55 individuals from eight stakeholder groups to co-create the framework underpinning what has become the SPE Gaia Sustainability Program.

SPE Gaia is a unifying sub-brand to aggregate and align topics, content, and events; a strategic programming framework to support all SPE sections, chapters, and committees in their event programming; and an ecosystem of aligned actors inside and outside of SPE (Fig. 1). A primary objective is to shatter the “sustainability glass floor,” thereby allowing our industry’s cutting-edge top-down initiatives to flow more freely in support of the people running day-to-day operations, planning jobs, optimizing performance, and setting the R&D priorities—the people who are asked to make the top line, make the bottom line, harm no one, and save the planet. You’re invited to join the discussion in the SDTS and on the SPE Gaia Sustainability Community LinkedIn group.

The Gaia programming framework.
Fig. 1—The Gaia programming framework.

Oil and gas are needed for the foreseeable future, and we believe our industry is best placed to lead in the energy transition but will only be allowed this position if we improve these daily decisions and actions in line with a future where humanity carries out its activities inside planetary boundaries, not at their expense.

Largely thanks to collective efforts enabled by our trade associations such as OGCI, IOGP, IPIECA, API, ARPEL, CAPP, OGUK, and the Energy Institute, the industry has recognized that the solutions for an effective and orderly energy transition must go beyond regulatory compliance toward proactively developing technologies that abate the impacts of our processes and products. SPE Gaia is aligned with these efforts and works with them where SPE can be additionally focused on innovation and energy system transformation, both within our comfort zone and including knowledge beyond our traditional comfort zone.

Measuring What Matters

The Gaia Measuring What Matters pathway was identified at the Gaia Summit as one of the key ways SPE could play a leading role. Today, measurement of sustainability performance is largely in the hands of investor relations under the ESG umbrella and focused on what matters to them, namely data to risk-profile their investments. But who is focusing on measuring what matters to the industry’s internal stakeholders, the people who are producing performance that is aligned with sustainable development, or not? How can quality decisions be made to allocate Capex or Opex in the absence of data-driven insights?

The Data Science and Engineering Analytics, HSE&S, Projects, Facilities, and Construction, and Completions disciplines have been working these topics under the Gaia Measuring What Matters workstream for nearly a year.

Why Methane Tops the List of Measuring What Matters

Methane has contributed about 30% of the global rise in temperatures to date (IEA 2021). It has 80 times the global warming potential of CO2 over a 20-year period (IPCC 2018). Furthermore, “sustained methane mitigation reduces global surface ozone, improves air quality, and reduces long-term surface temperature” (IPCC 2021). The International Energy Agency and the Global Methane Assessment by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) tell us that abating 45% of all anthropogenic methane can deliver 0.3°C of global warming reduction (UNEP 2021), in line with efforts to keep global warming within 1.5°C.

These emissions include five major sources (Global Methane Initiative 2021) prioritized by the US Environmental Protection Agency for low-cost, high-reduction potential: manure management (3%), coal mines (9%), municipal solid waste (11%), oil and natural gas (24%), and wastewater (7% of global emissions). Within this context, the oil and gas portion may seem insignificant. It is not. It can make the difference between order and chaos.

The COP26 GMP is estimated to reduce projected warming by 0.2°C. That’s 145 megatons in annual reductions—so it’s time for us to get to work. Curbing these emissions is the most effective means available for limiting global warming in the near term.

A combination of the adopting and enriching the top-down country and/or company-led mechanisms described in Fig. 2 will guide us all in playing our part in achieving the GMP. The UNEP Oil and Gas Methane Partnership 2.0 reporting gold standard, the Methane Guiding Principles, the IEF Kayrros Methodology, the World Bank Zero Flaring initiative, the API GHG Compendium, and the IOGP emissions company data collection are some of key mechanisms developed largely by our companies.

The top-down country and/or company-led mechanisms guide us all in playing our part in achieving the GMP.
Fig. 2—The top-down country and/or company-led mechanisms guide us all in playing our part in achieving the GMP.
Source: Kayrros.

SPE’s Knowledge Sharing To Advance Methane Management

While several SPE disciplines would consider methane management to be a mainstream technical topic for many decades, it is only in recent years that the flaring or release of methane in any form has become increasingly viewed as wasteful and harmful and has become fully understood for its global warming impact. As a result, methane management has become central to the industry’s climate management strategy.

In 2017, the SPE International Board approved a Climate Strategy that it had tasked the then HSE technical director to develop as a collaborative initiative. This strategy was one key pillar for the subsequent Gaia Program under which a portfolio of knowledge-sharing programming has been developed and socialized through conferences and, due to COVID-19, largely through virtual channels such as SPE Live, webinars, and section seminars. An example is the four-part SPE Gaia Talks series addressing methane management in collaboration with OGCI, IOGP, and IPIECA.

The SPE technical directors have just approved the establishment of a Methane Emissions Measurement, Reporting, and Abatement cross-disciplinary Discussion Group to be led by David Shackleton. This will be your community to engage for support in finding the most cost-effective solutions to reduce methane leaks, to ask questions, engage with external experts, share best practices, and collectively make sense of the rapidly evolving regulations, frameworks, technology, and stakeholder expectations. The hope is that this group will follow the same path as the Geothermal Discussion Group and soon evolve into a new technical section.

Visit SDTS for updates about the Methane Emissions Measurement, Reporting, and Abatement Discussion Group.

10 Takeaways That Matter

  1. Environmental Stewardship. Your daily operational decisions can regenerate ecosystems or deplete them. It comes down to framing and creativity.
  2. Measurement. You cannot manage what you do not measure. Measurements calibrate estimates and allow us to focus on the biggest opportunities.
  3. Methane. Even though burning methane emits half the CO2 of coal, methane itself contributed to 30% of global warming to date. We can avoid 70% of current industry emissions with existing technology, 45% of the total can be eliminated profitably or cost neutral. Because methane is 80 times more potent than CO2 for the first 20 years, this is our greatest opportunity to change the trajectory of global warming.
  4. The Global Methane Pledge. The GMP launched at COP26 to reduce methane emissions by 30% from 2020 levels by 2030 will reduce global warming potential by 0.2°C.
  5. Innovation. From satellites to drones, crawler robots to machine vision, innovation is changing the game, but more breakthroughs are needed.
  6. Economics and the Market. “No-leak” certified natural gas will fetch a higher price. Companies’ cost of capital is increasingly linked to their environmental performance. Now alongside economic considerations, options must also be weighed on CO2e, and on any impact to the environment/ecosystem.
  7. Jobs and the Future Workforce. Producing oil and gas with zero methane leaks and net-zero carbon emissions will create high‑paying jobs for decades, as will the jobs that require petroleum engineering core skills like geothermal, CCUS, underground hydrogen storage, offshore wind, etc.
  8. Natural Gas and Energy Security. The energy transition is not possible without clean, secure, reliable, affordable, and accessible natural gas. However, methane leaks erode the greenhouse gas advantage of gas over coal, so we must eliminate leaks to maintain this role.
  9. Individual Actions. You matter. We won’t get there without your contributions, your active volunteerism in SPE, your active advocacy, and your creative innovation. This is a call to action and an invitation to collaborate with us.
  10. Learning and Knowledge Sharing. Stay curious. There are many resources available to help you. Get involved today by joining and contributing to the SPE Methane Abatement Discussion Group and the SPE Gaia Sustainability Community LinkedIn group.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of their employer or organization.

With thanks to Kamel Ben-Naceur, Alex Moody-Stuart, Dwayne Purvis, Trey Shaffer, Darcy Spady, Flora Moon, Bob Pearson, Matthias Hartung, Mike Kyrylovych, Tony Zamora, Robert Kleinberg, and Jackson Hegland,—core members of the Gaia Measuring What Matters workgroup; and Rebecca Schultz, IEA; Harvey Johnstone and Concetto Fischetti, IOGP; Ulrike Schopp and Jim Herbertson, IPIECA; Pietro Mezzano and Julien Perez, OGCI; Matt Haddon, ERM; Christian Lelong and Antoine Rostand, Kayrros; Rebecca Middleton, the Methane Guiding Principles; Georges Tijbosh, MiQ; and Al Duerr, Carbon Connect International.

For Further Reading

Curtailing Methane Emissions From Fossil Fuel Operations, Executive Summary, International Energy Agency (2021).

Anthropogenic and Natural Radiative Forcing. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC (2018).

Technical Summary. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the IPCC (2021).

Global Assessment: Urgent Steps Must Be Taken To Reduce Methane Emissions This Decade. UN Environment Programme (2021).

Global Methane Emissions and Mitigation Opportunities. Global Methane Initiative (2021).

Josh Etkind, Shell Upstream deepwater digital transformation manager, chairperson of SPE Gaia Program and Sustainable Development Technical Section, and SPE Distinguished Member.

Johana Dunlop, IOGP membership engagement manager; chair emeritus SPE Gaia, and SPE HSES technical director 2017–2020.

David Shackleton, Schlumberger Independent Data Services business development manager, SPE Methane Emissions Measuring, Reporting, and Abatement Discussion Group, and SPE Calgary chair-elect.

Jim Crompton, professor of practice, petroleum engineering department, Colorado School of Mines.

Aimé Fournier, University of Colorado Denver, research associate professor, member of SPE Gaia Program and Sustainable Development Technical Section.