Industry partners active in federal methane research, speakers say

Companies are actively participating in federal programs to reduce methane emissions from US oil and gas operations as research partners and voluntary program participants, speakers said during the Gas Technology Institute’s 2016 Methane Emissions Conference in Alexandria, Va.

“Taking action before regulation gives us as an industry ways to act more effectively,” said Roy Hartstein, vice-president for strategic solutions at Southwestern Energy Co. in Houston, the nation’s third-largest natural gas producer.

Steps involve setting an ambitions methane emissions reduction target, making it cost-effective, fostering innovation, insisting on scientific integrity, allowing flexibility, and getting results quickly, Hartstein said during a Nov. 2 second session at the conference. A performance-based approach works best, he said.

The US Environmental Protection Agency is using a combination of regulatory and voluntary programs to address methane emissions from oil and gas operations, according to Carey Bylin, EPA’s oil and gas team leader.

Its Natural Gas STAR Methane Challenge Program, which it launched on Mar. 30 with 41 members, gives oil and gas companies a new mechanism for making more specific commitments to reduce methane emissions, she said.

Four companies—Kinder Morgan Inc., National Grid, Southern Co. Gas, and Southwestern Energy—formed the Our Nation’s Energy (ONE) Future coalition in 2014. The companies announced the first commitments on Nov. 1 under the EPA methane challenge program’s ONE Future option, which gives participants that flexibility as they follow specific reporting protocols to report progress. A best management practices option also is available.

Bylin said participants already helped EPA identify an area that apparently deserves further inquiry. “Compressors are used across the gas industry,” she said. “We found a majority of companies with them use service companies to maintain the equipment. So it’s not certain to what extent these service providers are committed to reducing methane emissions.”

The US Department of Energy’s methane emissions strategy, which is run through DOE’s Fossil Energy Office, addresses current emissions data, identifies technologies and best industry practices, and identifies existing enforcement authorities, noted Christopher Freitas, DOE’s senior program manager for natural gas.

FEO’s budget includes $12 million for a methane emissions mitigation and quantification program from midstream transportation systems, he said. DOE also has an in-house program focused specifically on reducing leaks, Freitas said.

Other speakers during the conference mentioned the possibility of going after so-called “super-emitters”—operations that produce emissions disproportionately greater than their size. Hartstein used different terminology to describe the opportunities such operations present. “An exceptional minority is a relatively small group where actions can produce dramatic methane emissions reduction results,” he said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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