TED Talk on methane and the oil and gas industry

This TED Talk heralds a new era in fighting climate change, from space

Watch this video to learn about a bold, new initiative to combat global warming

EDF and partners are launching a rocket to put a new satellite in orbit that could change the course of global warming in our lifetimes.

MethaneSAT will gather data about a pollutant – methane – that’s warming the planet, and put that data in the hands of people who can easily fix the problem.

EDF President Fred Krupp unveiled the groundbreaking project at TED’s flagship event in Vancouver, British Columbia, as part of The Audacious Project, successor to the TED Prize.

Just the first step will have the same near-term climate benefit as shutting down one-third of the world’s coal-fired power plants.

Fred Krupp, EDF President

Fred Krupp, EDF President

Our goal is to cut methane emissions 45 percent by 2025, and the data gathered by this satellite will make that possible. Nothing else will have the same kind of near-term impact at such a low cost.

The power of information

To learn the magnitude of the problem with methane, we collected data with drones, planes, helicopters, even Google Street View cars. It turned out that emissions are up to five times higher than what the government is reporting.

So we didn’t wait for Washington. We published our research, shared it with everyone and saw them take action. Leading oil and gas companies replaced valves and tightened loose-fitting pipes. Colorado became the first state to limit methane pollution. California followed suit, and the public joined in.

By bringing the right people to the table – and leveraging the best of technology, science, data and partnerships – we were able to make the invisible visible, empowering everyone. This enabled us to find new solutions that can be taken to scale and make a lasting impact.

And that’s what the emerging Fourth Wave of environmentalism is all about.

Source:  EDF Environment Defense Fund

OGCI Invests in a Diverse Set of Technologies Designed to Reduce Emissions

The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative is advancing efforts to develop and commercialize technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions in some unexpected areas.

The voluntary organization of 10 major international oil and gas producers has finalized the first three investments of its billion-dollar investment fund, OGCI Climate Investments, to fund three low-emission technology projects.

The projects, the first in a host of planned investments, seek to make more efficient engines, reduce the environmental impacts of cement, and demonstrate the commercial viability of carbon capture and storage at a gas-fired power plant.

“OGCI Climate Investments’ goal is to deliver GHG reductions by investing in pre-commercial technologies and solutions that are both cost-effective and will scale globally,” explained OGCI Climate Investments Chief Executive Officer Pratima Rangarajan.

The group also has the unique ability to deploy the technologies in the operations of its member companies to amplify the scale an impact of its initial investments.

Promising technologies

The investments include US-based cement and concrete production company Solidia Technologies, which has patented a technology that facilitates the production of cement in a way that generates fewer emissions and uses CO2 rather than water to cure concrete.

OGCI says Solidia’s technology has the potential to lower the carbon footprint of concrete by up to 70% and water consumption by up to 80%. The project is also expected to demonstrate how carbon dioxide can be commercially re-used in an environmentally sound way.

In the OGCI report Catalyst for Change, the organization notes that the conversion of captured carbon dioxide into useable products can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in specific sectors. In fact, the report notes that OGCI is looking to “invest in a range of companies that have developed innovative and commercially viable carbon utilization technologies.”

Another recipient of OGCI funding is Achates Power, a company that is developing high-efficiency opposed-piston engines that have the potential to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions produced by vehicles.  Achates Power plans to use the funds to accelerate the deployment of its technology across the globe alongside a broad consortium of engine makers.

The third project aims to design the world’s first full-scale natural gas power plant with carbon capture and storage, including industrial CO2 sequestration capability. OGCI Climate Investments has acquired the concept for a project in the UK and plans to work with the project team on a commercially viable concept and basic engineering design that can receive government support and attract private sector investors.

The project would also “enable neighboring energy-intensive industries to leverage the carbon dioxide transport and storage network that would be developed. This way, they too would be able to eliminate a large share of carbon dioxide from their operations,” OGCI said it its report.

The project could also advance the UK’s plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 80% of baseline 1990 levels by 2050.

The driving force behind OGCI

Together, OGCI’s 10 member companies claim to account for more than one-fourth of global oil and gas production. Their efforts demonstrate a commitment by these top producers – which include several national oil companies – to lessen the environmental impact of fossil fuels and collaborate on actions to reduce emissions.

The roster of members includes BP, China National Petroleum Corp., Eni, Pemex, Repsol, Saudi Aramco, Shell, Statoil and Total. An eleventh member, Brazil’s Petrobras, is set to formally join the group soon.

By collaborating thorough OGCI, the producers aim to be a catalyst for across the oil and gas industry and beyond. Since they produce so much of the world’s energy, the report says that makes them “important players in ensuring the supply of reliable and affordable energy, and gives us the opportunity to advance the transition to a low-emissions future.”

US Producers Reveal More Details on Their Methane Oversight Programs

Many top upstream and midstream companies in the US oil and gas sector are making meaningful methane disclosures to address increasing investor concerns about the gas, according to a report by the Environmental Defense Fund.

The EDF report, The Disclosure Divide: Revisiting Rising Risk and Methane Reporting in the U.S. Oil & Gas Industry, found that nine of the top 64 upstream and midstream companies release comprehensive reports on their methane leak detection and repair programs (LDAR), with many of the remaining companies carrying out some form of methane management program.

“Bright spots in the report include Southwestern Energy, which not only has a quantitative target, but is also committed to continuous improvement,” the report found. Noble Energy was also highlighted for releasing extensive details on its LDAR program in the Denver Julesburg Basin, the Appalachian Basin and onshore Texas.

“Noble’s methodology for inspections is conducted with infrared cameras. These efforts are reported as contributing factors to Noble Energy’s 1.62 billion cubic feet (bcf) reduction in methane emissions in 2016,” the report said.

Top performers also included shale-focused US producers Consol Energy, EOG Resources, Hess, Noble Energy, and WPX Energy as well as diversified international players ConocoPhillps and ExxonMobil and North American pipeline giant TransCanada.

To receive the highest distinction, each of the companies had to disclose three key details about its LDAR program, namely: The scope of the program, the frequency of inspections, and the methodology used for methane detection.

EDF noted that LDAR is evolving rapidly with emerging technologies like continuous mon­itors being piloted by Shell and Statoil, drone-based monitors, and predictive analytics.

Methane, a key component of natural gas, is a greenhouse gas 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide that is linked to climate change, according to EDF.

Activist Shareholders Push for Disclosures

The increased disclosures come as the Trump administration is rolling back aggressive methane-reduction regulations written by the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department, measures that were criticized by the oil and gas industry for the complexity and high cost of compliance.

Regardless, the focus on methane emissions is unlikely to abate as a growing number of investors are pressuring oil and gas companies to increase their environmental disclosures. The EDF report found that five of the seven companies that began offering more details on their LDAR practices in 2017 were targets of methane-shareholder resolutions during the past two years.

EDF bloggers Kate Gaumond and Sean Wright note that 390 investors representing more than $22 trillion in assets have signed a letter supporting the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures, an organization that advocates for a unified set of recommendations for corporate climate disclosure.

Among those calling for these measures is CalSTRS, California’s second largest public pension fund. “As a long-term global investor, we recognize that methane emissions are one of the most financially significant environmental risks we face,” Brian Rice, portfolio manager at CalSTRS said in a press release.

The push appears to be working. Cimarex Energy started providing more information about its methane management practices after it received methane shareholder resolutions in 2016 and 2017. ExxonMobil has likewise been the target of similar shareholder action and last year unveiled a comprehensive methane emissions reduction program focused on its shale-focused subsidiary XTO Energy (SO Jan. 28’18).

Industry is Leading its Own Efforts

The oil and gas industry has created its own group to address environmental concerns. In December, a host of players joined with the American Petroleum Institute to create a partnership designed to reduce the environmental impact operations across the US (SO Dec.24’17).

The voluntary effort, called the Environmental Partnership, is comprised of 26 producers who have pledged to initially focus on reducing emissions of methane and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from their operations.

The move is as a step in the right direction, though many environmental advocates would still like to see more.

“EDF looks forward to working with leading companies and other stakeholders to support methane regulations that build from and improve upon federal and state regulatory models and ensure that we are tapping all cost-effective solutions to comprehensively address oil and gas methane emissions,” EDF business director Ben Ratner said in a press release.

Exxon Launches Multi-Pronged Approach to Reducing Methane Emissions

ExxonMobil is taking fugitive methane emissions seriously with a program designed to lower the volume of the greenhouse gas that is released from the company’s production and midstream sites across the US.

The program, launched in September, prioritizes actions at US sites operated by the company’s shale-focused subsidiary XTO Energy. The effort includes phasing out high-bleed pneumatic devices, research into new technologies designed to detect and reduce facility emissions, staff training, and a leak detection and repair program.

“We are implementing an enhanced leak detection and repair program across our production and midstream sites to continually reduce methane emissions, and are also evaluating opportunities to upgrade facilities and improve efficiency at both current and future sites,” XTO President Sara Ortwein said in a press release.

The program goes beyond measures required by federal and state laws and represents a substantial move by Exxon — the largest natural gas producer in the US — to set a higher bar for the entire industry.

Plan Details

The multi-pronged approach to reducing methane emissions begins with a focus on the wellhead and associated midstream infrastructure; The leak detection and repair program requirse every XTO division to survey production and midstream sites with optical gas imaging camera technology for leaks. Data collected by these surveys will then analyzed for frequency, trends and patterns with facilities and equipment that are found to be more prone to leaking becoming top repair priorities.

XTO is also starting a three-year plan to phase out the use of 1,250 high-bleed pneumatic devices across its US operations. The valves, which are typically found at older sites, are designed to periodically vent pressure buildup to maintain safety, system integrity and efficient operations. The ones considered ‘high bleed’ vent more often and at higher volume

The practice of addressing the most leak-prone equipment and high-bleed pneumatic devices first suggests that XTO’s program could yield notable improvements early on. That’s because the largest portion of methane emissions appears to come from a small number of sources, in much the same way that a small percentage of older cars is responsible for the largest share of automotive-exhaust pollution, according to a 2014 study published by the University of Texas and the Environmental Defense Fund, with participation from Exxon.

The new program also calls for managing planned events in ways that are designed to reduce the release of methane emissions into the atmosphere. For instance, field personal will now monitor and remain nearby during the manual liquid unloading process at well sites to close off all wellhead vents to the atmosphere. Liquid unloading is a process that involves removing liquid that has collected in equipment tubing and prevents natural gas from flowing up through the well.

In addition, a training effort focused on management approaches to overall fugitive emissions is being launched and will consider topics like pneumatic device integrity, leak detection and repair practices, and the sharing of best practices across the company.

XTO will also continue its practice of using green completions to minimize methane emissions at wells during the completion process by capturing or burning off flowback emissions instead of venting them into the atmosphere. It is also working to minimize the need to burn off or flare this gas by maximizing gas capture via pipeline, although some flaring will still happen at new developments where infrastructure investments are contingent on successful hydrocarbon development.

West Texas and New Mexico

XTO has already begun putting some of these practices to use in prolific fields in West Texas and New Mexico. Last year, the company completed a pilot project in the Midland Basin that tested new low-emission designs that use compressed air instead of natural gas to operate the pneumatic equipment that helps to regulate conditions such as level, flow, pressure and temperature. It said the results demonstrated the feasibility of using similar designs for new and existing central tank batteries to further eliminate methane emissions.

The company is also collaborating with ExxonMobil Upstream Research Company and third-party equipment manufacturers to develop state-of-the-art, low-cost, minimum-emissions equipment that could be used for future developments, particularly in the Delaware Basin. Parent company Exxon is also participating in a methane measurement reconciliation study with the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and supporting research underway at Harvard, the University of Texas Energy Initiative, and Stanford University’s Natural Gas Initiative.

Legal Battles

Exxon’s expanded commitment to the environment comes as the company is facing an environmental legal battle in California. In July 2017, seven coastal communities filed suits in their local Superior Court systems alleging greenhouse gas emissions caused by Exxon and 17 other energy companies contributed to a warming planet, leading to coastal flooding, beach erosion and rising infrastructure costs. New York City followed California’s lead in January by filing its own lawsuit against the oil major and four other fossil fuel companies that seeks billions in damages to fund “climate change resiliency measures that the city needs to implement.”

Exxon’s Vice President of Public and Government Affairs for Suzanne McCarron addressed these global warming concerns in a January post on the company’s Energy Factor blog, saying “We believe the risk of climate change is real and we are committed to being part of the solution. That is why we have invested $8 billion since 2000 on energy efficiency and emissions reduction.”

In the meantime, the effort by these governmental bodies to wring money from the oil supermajor may ultimately be distracting from the bigger, overarching challenge we all face — that of securing energy to power a hungry world while coming up with technological solutions to reduce the risks posed by climate change.

The methane emissions reduction effort represents a step in the right direction for Exxon and serves as the latest indication that momentum to develop more sustainable oilfield practices is building across the industry.

Top US Oil and Gas Producers Form Collaborative Partnership to Reduce Emissions

A host of oil and natural gas operators have joined together to create a partnership designed to reduce the environmental impact of oil and gas operations across the US. The voluntary effort, called the Environmental Partnership, is comprised of 26 producers who have pledged to initially focus on reducing emissions of methane and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from their operations.

At the time of its launch in early December, the American Petroleum Institute said the participating companies represent operations in every major US oil and natural gas basin. They include a host of shale-focused independent producers like Southwestern Energy and Chesapeake Energy as well as several larger integrated firms like Chevron, Occidental Petroleum and Shell. The partnership will provide a platform for these producers to collaborate with stakeholders and learn from one another.

“The Environmental Partnership will help America’s natural gas and oil industry share goals, technologies and best practices that will make our environmental stewardship even stronger,” said Mark Berg, executive vice president of corporate and vertically integrated operations at Pioneer Natural Resources.

“We are proactively taking steps to reduce methane emissions to ensure the sustainability of natural gas for generations to come,” added Greg Guidry, executive vice president for Shell’s Unconventionals business.

Focus Areas

The Environmental Partnership’s inaugural initiative will focus on reducing the methane and VOC emissions associated with oil and natural gas production across the US. The initiative is comprised of three separate Environmental Performance programs for participating companies to begin to implement and phase into their operations starting on January 1, 2018.

The three voluntary programs include:

  1. Leak Program for Natural Gas and Oil Production Sources: Calls for participants to implement monitoring and timely repair of fugitive emissions at selected sites using detection methods and technologies such as Method 21 or Optical Gas Imaging cameras.
  2. Program to Replace, Remove or Retrofit High-Bleed Pneumatic Controllers: Involves the replacement, removal or retrofitting of high-bleed pneumatic controllers with low-or zero-emitting devices.
  3. Program for Manual Liquids Unloading for Natural Gas Production Sources: This program asks participants to minimize emissions associated with the removal of liquids at aging wells that can build up and restrict natural gas flow.

The effort comes as the industry is trying to get out ahead of new federal rules that could force them to implement some of the same practices targeted in the partnerships initial programs.

Oil and gas producers narrowly avoided a federal mandate to begin using similar practices at federal and tribal lands when the implementation of a new methane reduction rule by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was delayed and suspended by the Trump administration in early December. The Methane and Waste Prevention Rule that was put on hold was designed to place new limits on the amount of natural gas that can be leaked from oil and gas well sites on these lands.

The BLM rules called for oil and gas producers to use technologies and processes to cut flaring in half at wells on federal and tribal lands. It also called for the periodic inspection of operations for leaks and the replacement of outdated equipment found to be venting large quantities of gas. The requirements also would have restricted venting from storage tanks and required operators to use best practices to limit gas losses when removing liquids from wells.

Some portions of the BLM rule had already gone into effect since it was first published in the Federal Register in November 2016. One aspect that came into effect in January 2017 called for operators to submit a waste minimization plan with their drilling operations. That and other requirements have been suspended while other parts of the rule that would have taken effect in January 2018 have been pushed back until January 2019.

The BLM rule is just one of several emissions restrictions to arise in recent years for the oil and gas industry.  Earlier this year, US lawmakers also voted to block the implementation of a pollution rule by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that is currently facing litigation.

Big shale producing states like Colorado and North Dakota have had more success than the federal government adopting their own unique methane reduction policies in recent years. Colorado was the first state to do so in 2014, when it adopted rules that required operators to routinely inspect for and correct methane leaks and use technology to capture 95% of emissions of VOCs and methane.

The same year, North Dakota also instituted its flaring reduction rules designed to curb the amount of associated natural gas flared by oil wells targeting the Bakken Shale.

The organization of the Environmental Partnership shows that the industry is taking such environmental concerns seriously and is taking steps to work together proactively to find ways to become better stewards of the environment.

“The industry has a long record of implementing technology and practices that have proven to increase efficiency and reduce the environmental footprint of operations,” said Jack Gerard, president and chief executive officer of the American Petroleum Institute. “In establishing the Environmental Partnership, the natural gas and oil industry is working together to promote the most effective programs and opportunities to improve environmental performance throughout our operations.”

Inaugural Environmental Partnership Participants

  • Anadarko
  • Apache
  • BHP
  • BP
  • Chesapeake Energy
  • Cabot Oil and Gas
  • Chevron
  • Cimarex Energy
  • ConocoPhillips
  • CrownQuest
  • Devon Energy
  • Encana
  • EOG Resources
  • Exxon Mobil subsidiary XTO Energy
  • Hess
  • Marathon Oil
  • Murphy Oil
  • Newfield
  • Noble Energy
  • Occidental Petroleum
  • Pioneer Natural Resources
  • Shell
  • Southwestern Energy
  • Statoil
  • Total
  • Western Gas Partners
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