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Call for tougher surveillance measures to detect methane leaks in US

15/6/2022

Pump jack in Texas Photo: Shutterstock
Oil and gas companies must change course quickly if the US is to reach its methane reduction targets by the end of this decade, says the US House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology

Photo: Shutterstock

The US House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology is calling for tougher surveillance measures to detect and control methane leaks after an investigation it initiated found evidence of super-emitters and undetected leaks in Permian Basin oil and gas operations.

According to the investigation’s report, oil and gas companies are ‘failing to address super-emitting leaks’. It states that scientific research has established that a small group of massive, ‘super-emitting’ methane leaks is ‘disproportionately responsible for methane emissions from the oil and gas sector’ in the US, adding that ‘operator-led methane leak detection and repair (LDAR) programmes lack the capability to effectively mitigate methane emissions from super-emitters’. The report claims the programmes ‘do not define the size of a super-emitting leak, identify and track super-emitting leaks when they occur, assess how much super-emitting leaks contribute to their overall methane emissions, or use observations on super-emitters to inform their approach to leak detection in the future’.

 

‘By not prioritising methane super-emitters, oil and gas companies are missing opportunities for rapid emissions reductions,’ says the Committee. ‘Oil and gas companies must change course quickly if the US is to reach its methane reduction targets by the end of this decade.’

 

Methane emissions are one of the most significant drivers of climate change. With a global warming potential 84 times greater than CO2 over a 20-year time frame, mitigating methane emissions is critical to meeting net zero targets.

 

The Committee report also says that oil and gas companies have internal data showing that methane emission rates from the sector are likely significantly higher than official data reported to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would indicate. ‘A very significant proportion of methane emissions appear to be caused by a small number of super-emitting leaks,’ it says, noting that: ‘One company experienced a single leak that may be equivalent to more than 80% of all the methane emissions it reported to EPA – according to EPA’s prescribed methodology – for all of its Permian oil and gas production activities in 2020.’

 

Following the investigation, the Committee is recommending that the Federal government:  

  • Create a new Federal programme to conduct accurate methane measurement surveys – a ‘methane census’ – over major oil and gas basins in the US on a regular basis, and consider how the data from these surveys can be assessed alongside existing methane inventory data.
  • Help develop voluntary, consensus technical standards to assist oil and gas sector stakeholders in using quantification data to estimate aggregate methane emissions.
  • Create a new Federal programme to strengthen methane detection capabilities and reduce measurement uncertainty.
  • Develop consensus best practices for oil and gas companies to use when evaluating the adoption and implementation of innovative LDAR technologies.
  • Create a methane emissions measurement and mitigation research consortium to encourage research partnerships and information sharing between industry, academia, non-profit organisations, and other stakeholders in the oil and gas sector.
  • Commission a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to articulate a science-based strategy for the use of greenhouse gas detection and monitoring capabilities at Federal agencies to detect methane emission events, including super-emitters.
  • Ensure that Federal regulations to control methane from the oil and gas sector enable technology diversity and scientific innovation in LDAR technologies.

 

The Committee also says that oil and gas companies should join the United Nations Environment Programme’s Oil and Gas Methane Partnership 2.0 Framework; accelerate the comprehensive deployment of innovative LDAR technologies; and adopt science-based LDAR strategies to maximise methane emissions reductions from oil and gas operations as rapidly as possible.