Posted December 13, 2017
With last week’s launch of The Environmental Partnership, let’s take a more detailed look at the three emissions-reducing programs more than two dozen participating companies have announced as their initial focus: pneumatic controller upgrades, leak detection and well liquids removal.
These sound a little technical, yet you don’t have to be a petroleum engineer to understand why the partnership has prioritized them at launch. Indeed, all have been identified by EPA data and research as three of the greatest sources of industry-related emissions of methane and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Greg Guidry, Shell executive vice president of unconventionals:
“These programs are based on industry experience of proven, cost-effective methods and many operators have implemented similar efforts. As part of this initiative, participants will begin implementing and phasing these three emission reduction program, into their operations beginning Jan. 1, 2018. … Collectively, these environmental performance programs will make a significant reduction in emissions associated with natural gas and oil production.”
The program involves replacing, removing or retrofitting pneumatic controllers located at onshore production sites, as well as natural gas gathering facilities and processing plants. The devices, a major component at remote, automated sites, use natural gas pressure to control the operation of mechanical equipment and release natural gas to the atmosphere during normal operation.
Upgrading options include retrofitting or replacing to a lower-emitting device, converting the equipment to use compressed air instead of natural gas, substituting an electrically operated controller and valve actuator or a mechanical controller, and other technologies that help reduce emissions – or removing pneumatic controllers from service where feasible.
Producing, gathering, processing and then transporting natural gas is facilitated by miles of pipelines and associated components – valves, flanges and welded connections. While the industry is heavily invested in infrastructure maintenance, leaks may occur and may be difficult to detect without proper equipment.
Partnership participants are committed to setting up initial monitoring at selected sites using instrument methods and technologies, such as EPA Method 21 (portable instrument) for detecting VOCs or optical gas imaging cameras (below) to detect methane leaks.
Under the leak detection program, participating companies will develop criteria for selecting sites for emissions monitoring, phasing-in their efforts over 18 months, with all participating sites covered within five years. If repairs are required, they are generally to be completed within 60 days.
Over the production life of a natural gas well, liquid – primarily water – may accumulate in the well to the point where the pressure of the liquid becomes greater than the natural gas velocity. Eventually, this slows or stops the flow of natural gas from the well and requires manual removal or “unloading” of the accumulated liquid.
Manual liquids unloading temporarily diverts the natural gas flow, which changes the pressure in the wellbore and allows the liquids to rise to the surface without the help of automated equipment. The operation can result in some emissions of methane and VOCs. Under this program, companies commit to monitoring manual unloadings and close all wellhead vents to the atmosphere as soon as practicable – minimizing emissions.
As we’ve said, these programs of the new partnership reflect an industry that is advancing technologies and operating procedures that are reducing emissions – methane from natural gas production declined 16.3 percent between 1990 and 2015, a time when natural gas output increased 51.9 percent. The partnership is structured to continue that progress – based on a willingness to share scientific information and best practices that’s virtually unprecedented.
As participants said at last week’s launch, the partnership isn’t anti-regulation. Rather, it is companies working together to achieve real results through knowledge, technology and innovation – which is a better way than a burdensome, one-size-fits-all approach that could stymie innovation and actually hinder progress. Guidry noted that the partnership's emissions reduction programs cover existing and new facilities, while rules issued by the previous administration covered just new facilities and modified existing facilities:
“There’s a heck of a lot more existing facilities than there are facilities that are being built. … This voluntary program does not distinguish between existing and new. It covers the totality of the scope of what these companies have in their portfolio, whether it be existing or new.”
The partnership model is one that can grow as participants identify other environmental objectives in the future. Erik Milito, API upstream and industry operations group director:
“Our industry has developed the technologies and implemented the best practices to reduce emissions, and the partnership will serve to positively continue that trend. … This groundbreaking initiative is an important reminder of our industry’s commitment to responsibly develop America’s energy resources.”
Below, more from The Environmental Partnership’s member companies.
Gene Beck, Statoil:
“Statoil believes that it is our responsibility to contribute to energy production that continuously strives to have a lower carbon footprint. By reducing methane emissions, natural gas will be an even more attractive part of a future low carbon energy mix. For years, Statoil has been implementing procedures that reduce emissions from our operations.”
Gary Willingham, Noble Energy
“Our participation in The Environmental Partnership Program increases our ability to access key information, better understand how innovation can contribute to methane management and further apply environmental best practices across our operations.”
Lee K. Boothby, Newfield
“At Newfield, corporate responsibility and sustainable business practices have been part of our DNA since the company’s inception nearly 30 years ago. We are at the forefront in our pursuit of new technologies and processes to reduce air emissions in our operational regions. In 2016, we established a significant objective to expand our leak detection and repair program in every Newfield operating area. Voluntary engagement in the Environmental Partnership will support our efforts to achieve this goal while helping us employ new, innovative processes and technologies for continued emissions reductions.”
Vicki Hollub, Occidental Petroleum Corporation
“Occidental employs cutting-edge technologies and processes to contribute to the decline in methane emissions and to achieve exemplary safety and environmental performance. Our participation in The Environmental Partnership is an extension of Occidental’s continuing commitment to conducting its business in a manner that protects the health and safety of people and the environment at its facilities and in the communities where we operate.”
Sara Ortwein, XTO Energy
“We recognize the challenge of providing the energy the world needs while reducing emissions. The Environmental Partnership aligns with our own longstanding commitment to reduce emissions while meeting global energy demand.”
Al Walker, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation
“Our environment is something we all share, and the responsibility to protect it is something we strive to incorporate into all operating activities. Anadarko’s participation in The Environmental Partnership is another important step in demonstrating our commitment to reduce emissions and safeguard the health of our communities.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.