Info!
UPDATED 1 Sept: The EI library in London is temporarily closed to the public, as a precautionary measure in light of the ongoing COVID-19 situation. The Knowledge Service will still be answering email queries via email , or via live chats during working hours (09:15-17:00 GMT). Our e-library is always open for members here: eLibrary , for full-text access to over 200 e-books and millions of articles. Thank you for your patience.

Energy insight: Methane emissions reduction – Part 1: Oil and gas

For information on methane emissions related to coal, see Energy Insight - Methane Emissions reduction – Part 2 – Coal 

Why is methane a problem for the climate?

Methane (CH4) is the third most abundant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere (after water vapour and carbon dioxide (CO2)). Any methane emitted today lasts only about 10 years in the atmosphere, (CO2 can last thousands of years) but has a Global Warming Potential (GWP), according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, of 28-36 over 100 years.  

GWP is the “measure of how much energy the emissions of 1 ton of a gas will absorb over a given period of time, relative to the emissions of 1 ton of CO2.” The higher the GWP, the more energy is absorbed, the less energy escapes into space, and thus the more the earth is warmed.

The UNFCCC (United Nations Climate Change) reports similar figures:
Ref: Global Warming Potentials United Nations Climate Change

An added danger is that “oxidation of methane is responsible for the majority of the ozone formation in the troposphere”, and ozone (O3) also has global warming potential.

The UN environment programme, in May 2021, issued a Global Assessment: Urgent steps must be taken to reduce methane emissions this decade in order to achieve the Paris Climate Agreement's goal to limit global temperature rise to 1.5degrees Celcius.

Where does the methane in the atmosphere come from?

The World Meteorolgical Organisation reported (in May 2021) that 40% of methane emissions come from natural sources, and 60% from anthropogenic sources.   Of this 60%, the oil and gas industries account for 23%, coal mining 12%, waste sector 20%, agriculture 32% and rice cultivation 8%.  

Natural gas is a mixture of various gases, but the main component, typically over 93%, is methane.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated that oil and gas accounted for 70Mt of global methane emissions in 2020 - which, due to the effects of the COVID19 pandemic, was 10% lower than their estimate for 2019.

Doesn’t burning gas get rid of the methane?

Yes – but burning methane releases carbon dioxide, water and energy, and although this means less methane, the carbon dioxide is still a greenhouse gas contributing to global warming

What are energy companies doing to reduce their methane emissions?

Oil and Gas initiatives

Various initiatives aimed at reducing methane emissions have already been started by some oil and gas companies.

The Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) Oil & Gas Methane Partnership (OGMP) started in 2015 but launched at the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit in New York in September 2014, is a voluntary initiative to help reduce methane emissions in the oil and gas sector. It has, as of January 2020, ten partner companies including BP, Shell and Total. Since launch, each member company’s activities has been reported annually.

In January 2020, OGMP members agreed on improved methane reporting framework including “a performance element that focuses on reduction approaches, technology advancement and policy development”.  The list of nine key sources of methane emissions, listed below, has also been updated to include all material sources of methane emissions. 

Ref: The CCAC Oil & Gas Methane Partnership

The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI), also started in 2014 by thirteen oil companies (now in 2021 with a membership of 12 companies), is a voluntary CEO-led initiative taking practical actions on climate change. They have set a target to greatly reduce their collective methane emissions, and state 'Our long-term objective is to help achieve near-zero methane emissions across the oil and gas industry and along the full gas value change'. They also support the aim of zero gas flaring by 2030.

The Environmental Partnership comprises 174 companies operating in the US oil and natural gas industry (July 2021) focusing on implementing best practice Leak Detection and Repair LDAR) programmes' replacing high-bleed pneumatic controllers with low or zero-emitting devices, and minimizing emissions associated with the removal of liquids from wells with manual liquids unloading for gas production sources. Participating companies can share scientific data and best practices.

Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFR) led by the World Bank, is “a public-private initiative comprising international and national oil companies, national and regional governments, and international institutions. GGFR works to increase use of natural gas associated with oil production by helping remove technical and regulatory barriers to flaring reduction, conducting research, disseminating best practices, and developing country-specific gas flaring reduction programs.” The World Bank aims to monetize the recovered gas, especially in remote locations. Their aim is zero routine flaring by 2030.

Global Methane Initiative  “GMI’s 44 Partner Countries and more than 730 Project Network members (July 2021) exchange information and technical resources to advance methane mitigation in three key sectors: Oil and Gas, Biogas, and Coal Mines”. The aim is to develop strategies and markets and remove barriers, both technical and non-technical, to methane mitigation projects. An interactive map showing GMI’s targeted project sites is on the GMI website.

Methane Detectors’ Challenge, launched in 2014 – “is a ground-breaking partnership between EDF [Environmental Defense Fund], oil and gas companies, U.S.-based technology developers, and other experts, that aims to enable oil and gas companies to detect and fix methane leaks in real time”. The challenge is designed to get the next generation of detection technology to market more quickly so that methane leaks can be detected and fixed in days rather than months. Active partners include PG&E (which has installed innovative methane detection technology), Statoil (now Equinor), and Shell; both of the latter two launched pilots of solar-powered methane leak detection technology in 2019.

Methane guiding principles - In 2017, eight oil companies signed up to “Reducing methane emissions across the natural gas value chain: guiding principles” (now usually referred to as the Methane guiding principles).  By 2021, 24 oil and gas companies were signatories. These principles are: “To continually reduce methane emissions; advance strong performance across gas supply chain; improve accuracy of methane emissions data; advocate sound policy and regulations on methane emissions; and increase transparency.” These guidelines are complementary to, and reinforce, other initiatives such as OGMP, and the OGCI.  (The Energy Institute offers a Methane Guiding Ptinclipels Masterclass - eLearning course)

The Energy Institute became a Supporting Signatory in February 2019 and is continually reviewing how it is incorporated in our work. This began by raising awareness of the findings from our 2018 Future of gas report, revealing that more than 80% of global oil and gas professionals were unaware of the extent of the technical and commercial possibilities for tackling the problem. The EI has partnered with Methane Guiding Principles and experts from Imperial College London’s Sustainable Gas Institute to offer a Masterclass that is intended to help participants understand methane emissions and learn how best to mitigate them. Future good practice work in this area will be led by the Hydrocarbon Management Committee. 

Other organisations - IPIECA, The International Gas Union (IGU) and the International Association of Oil and Gas producers (IOGP) have become Associate Signatories to the principles.  By 2021 there were 17 supporting orgnisations.

Many other organisations and companies have given their support. For example:
Russia’s Gazprom, whose level of methane emissions across its natural gas value chain is independently estimated to be 5-7% (or at least 3 times the global average) has also signed the Guiding Principles.

What have the oil and gas companies put into practice?

OGCI’s annual report 2018 tells us that there are four main methods to reduce methane emissions which their member companies will adopt:

1. Leak detection and repair (LDAR) – the sooner a leak from a pipeline, other facility or equipment is spotted and mended the less methane will enter the atmosphere. Techniques for improving leak detection include:
  • expanding the coverage and increasing the frequency of LDAR campaigns
  • using optical gas imaging with infrared cameras; and optical laser spectroscopy to accelerate LDAR.  
  • mounting sensors on drones to assess leaks from specific equipment as well as entire facilities.
  • Detecting methane emissions from space – this has been done by NASA who detected emissions from a storage facility. There are commercial companies, such as GHG Sat offering global greenhouse gas emissions monitoring from satellites orbiting the Earth. In July 2021 it was reported that oil majors Chevron, Shell and TotalEnergies are supporting a 12 month research project being carried out by GHGSat "to assess the feasibility of its high-resolution, space-based methane monitoring technology to measure emissions from offshore oil and gas platforms".
2. Replace or upgrade devices where methane emissions are known to occur.  

This generally means replacing, or retrofitting, high-bleed pneumatics devices for low-bleed ones. This was being advised and explained by the US EPA as far back as 2006. 

These devices are used to control fluid levels (e.g. on separators, tanks and treaters); pressure; temperature; differential pressure, position; and safety shutdown valves. “In upstream oil and gas operations, the most common end devices are actuated valves that allow flow, stop flow, or throttle flow”.

Pneumatic devices send a gas-pressure signal to the end-device, and this is commonly achieved by using available natural gas (although it can be compressed air or bottled compressed gas). Some of the control actions require the gas to be vented – hence the need for changing high bleed-devices for low-bleed ones.

An introduction to the subject can be found in David A Simpson’s 2014 paper on Pneumatic Controllers in Upstream Oil and Gas.

3. Reduce operational venting in new and existing assets by collecting gas for reutilization.  

4. Eliminate routine flaring by 2030 by collecting gas for reutilization, and also implement high efficiency flares when flaring is necessary for safety reasons.”

The collected gas has been variously used around the world:
  • to aid recovery of low-pressure associated gas, or reinjected into natural gas reservoirs
  • to generate local electricity
  • to provide drilling power to rigs and auxiliary generators
  • for petrochemicals

Investments in methane emissions reduction

The OGCI companies are investing more that US$1 billion aimed at achieving zero methane emissions, in startup companies developing methane emissions reduction technologies such as:
Clarke Valve– has developed a unique control valve that is low-cost and virtually eliminates fugitive methane emissions 
Kairos Aerospace – Using aerial surveys to providing actionable data on major sources of methane emissions 

For more initiatives around the world see the map on the OGCI website and their Global methane Challenge, Oil and gas Systems, Tools and Resources

What else is encouraging methane mitigation?


UN Climate Change (UNFCCC secretariat)

The Paris Agreement’s central aim is to "strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Additionally, the agreement aims to strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change.”

Reducing methane emissions is one of these efforts.

By July 2021, 196 states, and one regional economic integration organisation, had ratified the agreement.

International Energy Agency

In July 2019 the IEA announced it had launched a new Methane tracker so that "Oil and gas producers that can demonstrate that they are taking strong action to reduce methane emissions can credibly argue that their resources should be preferred over higher-emission options."  The tracker is a database with facts and figures on methane from oil and gas; a geographical breakdown, and links to initiatives for mitigating methane emissions.

European Commission

In 2018 the EU set out its vision "to be climate-neutral by 2050" and has issued a 2050 long-term strategy aimed at acheiveing an economy with net-zero greenhours gas emissions. How this should be achieved is set out in their European green deal.

The Industrial Emissions Directive  was adopted in November 2010 and indicates that harmful industrial emissions across the EU must be reduced, for instance by the application of Best Available Techniques (BAT).  

Various guidance documents relating to oil and gas are available:

(All the reference documents can be found at https://eippcb.jrc.ec.europa.eu/reference/)

European Union and the G8

With their low-carbon economy Roadmap 2050  the EU and G8 aim to reduce greenhouse gases by 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

What about non-European Union countries?

Norway

Norway was the first country to support the World Bank initiative - Zero routine flaring. The Norwegian company, Equinor, has reduced their CO2 from flaring by 25% since 2007 – equivalent to more than 190,000 tonnes.

OPEC

All OPEC member countries are signatories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

UK

The UK has been a partner country of the Global Methane Initiative since 2004.
They ratified the Paris Agreement in November 2016.

In 2019 the Government committed the UK to Reaching Net Zero in the UK by 2050.

The Environment Agency published Onshore oil and gas sector guidance in February 2019, updated in January 2020.  Relevant sections for methane issues are:
8. Flares at onshore oil and gas sites
13. Monitoring emissions for onshore oil and gas activities

In June 2021 the OIl and Gas Authority (OGA) issued consolidated and updated guidance on flaring and venting  to drive reductions in methane emissions from oil and gas operations. Offshore gas is responsible for 1% of total annual UK methane emissions.

USA

The US government plays a leading role in the Global Methane Initiative (see above) by providing technical expertise and leadership on its steering committee.  They have supported methane emission reduction projects around the world since 2005.

Further reading

Global Methane Initiative “GMI’s 44 Partner Countries and more than 730 Project Network members exchange information and technical resources to advance methane mitigation in three key sectors: Oil and Gas, Biogas, and Coal Mines

Guiding Principles on Reducing Methane Emissions across the Natural Gas Value Chain.  Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) 2017. 

Greenhouse gas emissions: Understanding Global Warming Potentials United States Environmental Protection Agency.  

Industry initiatives – key factors for addressing methane emissions FSR Topic of the Month. Andris Piebalgs and Maria Olczak (FSR Gas Area) European University Institute  Published on 8th April 2019  

Methane tracker 2021.  IEA.  2021

Options for reducing methane emissions from pneumatic devices in the natural gas industry.   United States Environmental Protection Agency, October 2006 

Pollutant Information: Methane National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory.  UK data only, from 1990 to 2016 - for agriculture and downstream energy.

Pneumatic Devices – Part 1 CLAiRIFI 

Pneumatic Controllers in Upstream Oil and Gas David A. Simpson, SPE, MuleShoe Engineering.  Oil and gas facilities, October 2014, pp83-96 (SPE 172505)

The Role of Gas in Today's Energy Transitions: World Energy Outlook special report. IEA, July 2019

The US natural gas industry is leaking way more methane than previously thought. Here’s why that matters.  The conversation, July 2, 2018 11.42am BST


(This Energy Insight was originally compiled in May 2019)


Please login to save this item