Better methane leak measurements needed, federal officials maintain

Two federal officials said that their agencies would like to see higher quality methane emission measurements developed to produce better data. This would help them develop more effective and workable regulations, they explained on Nov. 2 in separate remarks during the Gas Technology Institute’s 2016 Methane Emissions Conference in Alexandria, Va.

The US Department of Energy’s goal is to improve methane emissions measurements and date so that information can be used for reductions more economically, more quickly, and more effectively, DOE Deputy Assistant Sec. for Oil and Gas Neelish Nerurkar said. “We have about $7 million we’re investing during fiscal 2016 in new mitigation technology and $5 million we’re investing in improving methane measurements,” he indicated.

Domestically, methane accounts for about 11% of total greenhouse gas emissions, with about a third of that coming from the oil and gas industry, Nerurkar said. “Reducing methane emissions is a good opportunity to do something constructive relatively quickly,” he said. “The role gas can play in an environmentally constrained world will be determined by how effectively we address this issue.”

Liquefied natural gas operations are not part of DOE’s methane emissions program right now, he conceded. “It’s an area we probably should think about,” Nerurkar said. “There’s so much low-hanging fruit out there to make a big difference quickly. We’re looking at all of it.”

The US Environmental Protection Agency considers improving methane emissions measurements one of its three main strategies, along with better use of its regulatory authority and developing partnerships with companies in the oil and gas industry, where “there’s a lot of knowledge that EPA appreciates and would like to use,” said Sarah Dunham, who directs EPA’s Office of Atmospheric Programs.

The federal environmental regulator has cooperated with DOE in improving data quality within its annual greenhouse gas inventory and facilities-specific GHG reporting program, she told her audience at GTI’s conference. “This year marked the fifth year we’ve collected oil and gas data, which makes it more mature and useful,” Dunham said. “It’s a good set of data, but it’s not comprehensive. There continue to be gaps.”

‘Incentives for innovations’

EPA’s program now covers gas pipeline blowdowns and more wellhead activities, she noted. “We want our program to provide incentives for innovations,” Dunham said. “The best way to develop regulations is to have the best possible data. A number of states have been working on reducing methane emissions for years, and we hope to learn from them. The US Bureau of Land Management also is trying to cut methane emissions on its lease through its comprehensive waste management program.”

GTU Pres. David Carroll, who spoke before the two federal officials, said that methane emissions concerns that have been expressed cast doubt on the gas industry’s claim that the fuel is cleaner than goal. This represents both a global challenge and opportunity, he maintained. “Positioning the gas industry and the International Gas Union, which meets next June in Washington, as champions of the methane emissions challenge presents great opportunities,” he said.

Carroll said that the IGU, of which he also is president, has focused its methane emissions strategy on measurement, documentation, and reductions. The gas industry worldwide needs to improve measurements’ accuracy and technology and share best methane reduction practices with governments, he suggested. Effective policy approaches focus on performance-based steps that priorities and reduce the largest emissions sources first, with more of those in gas production and processing than in distribution, he said.

“We want to continue bringing the economic and environmental benefits of gas to more countries as they address the effects of global climate change,” said Carroll. “We have to make certain that gas is included in their plans.”

Dunham said that EPA has 46 upstream, midstream, and downstream gas industry partners in its methane emissions challenge. Lower emissions from hydraulic fracturing operations the past few years are a direct result of 2021 new source requirements which EPA adopted, she reported.

“It looks like performance standards work,” said Carroll. “Our industry is responding.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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