HSE & Sustainability

Navigating the Landscape of Methane-Emissions Management Requires an Array of Technologies

No single silver bullet exists to wipe out methane emissions generated by upstream oil and gas activities. Experts at a recent forum discussed an array of technologies and strategies to help the industry make smart decisions to measure, monitor, and mitigate emissions of the potent greenhouse gas.

Flare and valve
The gas valve on the background of flaming torch flame
Credit: Leonid Ikan/Getty Images/iStockphoto.

When it comes to methane, there is good news and bad news.

First, the bad news. Even though carbon dioxide (CO2) has a longer-lasting effect, methane has more than 80 times the warming power of CO2 over the first 20 years after it reaches the Earth’s atmosphere and sets the pace for warming in the near term.

The challenge of managing methane emissions is a moving target that evolves daily, driven by regulatory uncertainty; altering standards and expectations from government, the public, and various regulatory groups; and carbon markets.

Understanding and navigating the options can be overwhelming.

No incentives currently exist to use technology other than leak detection and repair (LDAR) solutions specified by regulators, and proponents of alternative leak detection and repair (alt-LDAR) programs must prove that their program works through emissions-reduction equivalence.

The amount of risk if industry players fail to make the right decisions is huge and includes loss of narrative control and investor confidence, declining competitiveness, compliance issues, and the “last mover disadvantage.”

But there is also good news.

Reducing methane emissions is becoming a top priority for fighting climate change among all stakeholders.

Interest is growing among oil and gas companies to go “above and beyond” in demonstrating voluntary reduction of greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions.

Emissions management knowledge, technologies, and solutions, driven by measurement and monitoring, are evolving as rapidly as the challenges.

Alt-LDAR programs are being accepted in numerous jurisdictions in North America—including Canada and the US (federal); the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia (expected); and the states of Colorado and New Mexico—to provide flexibility in how oil and gas producers manage their fugitive methane emissions. Among these is LDAR-Sim, an open-source, agent-based numerical model for estimating equivalence among LDAR programs and exploring specific LDAR scenarios.

Making the right decisions will yield great opportunities for everyone on the planet now and for generations to come.

A recent Methane Strategies Forum brought together subject-matter experts from the oil and gas community to discuss strategies, tactics, use cases, and projects for global methane-emissions reduction. The discussion focused on opportunities to increase the use of emerging technologies including drones, aircraft, satellites, vehicle systems, and continuous sensors to improve measurements and disclosure.

Sean Guerre, executive director of the Energy Drone and Robotics Coalition, moderated the forum. Thomas Fox, president and director of innovation at Highwood Emissions Management, gave the keynote presentation. Other presenters and their topics were

  • Andrew Aubrey, senior vice president, SeekOps—Delivering Emissions Data and Aerial Intelligence Quickly for Operational and Regulatory Demands
  • Stephen Conley, chief executive officer, Scientific Aviation and Operation Falcon—Current Applications for Laser Falcon and Laser Methane Mini
  • Jean-François Gauthier, vice president, GHGSat—Global Emissions Monitoring With Satellite Technology
  • Myalee Müller, senior product manager environmental solutions, Avitas, a Baker Hughes venture—Emissions Detection, Localization, and Quantification with UAS and Advanced Data Analytics
  • Pete Roos, chief executive officer, Bridger Photonics—Disruptive LiDAR Solutions To Improve Safety and Efficiency in Energy Operations
  • Alexander Wictor, technical sales representative, Pergam Technical Services—Sensors and Laser Technology: Handheld, Stationary, and Acoustic-Based Methane Leak Detection

There was consensus among the participants around several critical areas.

Instead of a silver bullet, the exploration and production (E&P) sector and all stakeholders will benefit most from being technology-agnostic and collaborating to determine which technologies, approaches, and sequencing will converge to provide the best possible solutions based on specific assets, needs, geography, and financial partnerships.

The need to improve transparency and independent verification of reported emissions is real and substantial.

Finding the big leaks fast will address the majority of emissions problems fastest.

Faster adoption of emerging alt-LDAR technologies will require the following:

  • Speeding operator adoption
  • Collaboration among industry, regulators, and the public
  • Reducing uncertainty within the regulatory environment and preventing regulations from being too prescriptive
  • Acquiring field hours while demonstrating technology to people in the industry
  • Cascading the emissions-reduction vision and getting the support of those in the field