Over the last 10yrs many political and scientific arguments have been made discussing the impact of man-made “carbon molecules” directly causing climate change. Is climate change real? If it is real, was it caused by man? The True Answer to these questions is not important. Globally humanity has spent trillions of dollars in investments, businesses have been built and careers are in play, all predicated on the philosophy that the carbon footprint must be reduced. This means that the proverbial “horse” has left the gate, and this race will be run.
With the current state of global political agendas making the idea of reducing carbon-based emissions a global initiative it will require a multipronged approach to achieve. First, deploying carbon-free energy sources such as wind, solar, geothermal, and nuclear power to reduce carbon emissions. Adding technology to capture methane and other emissions from sources such as coal-fired power plants, landfills, and other industrial processes and storing them underground or in liquid form. Improving efficiency by implementing more efficient technologies and practices in the production and use of energy to reduce methane emissions. Finally, converting methane into a usable fuel or a more benign form of energy such as hydrogen or electricity.
Methane abatement has been a sub-layer in the climate change narrative. Methane, the main component of natural gas, has been categorized as a powerful greenhouse gas with a 25 times more potent rating than carbon dioxide. So, in the story of “reducing greenhouse gases” to stop climate change every molecule of methane that is not released is now equal to 25 molecules of carbon dioxide captured. What does this mean to operators in the oil and gas industry?
The first step for operators is to focus on low hanging, quick initiatives around operational efficiencies of current infrastructure. A simple example of this would be comparing the caloric value of your fuel gas compared to the engine design. Common practice is for operators to use green wellhead gas to provide fuel to run field compression. Many times, the fuel that is burned in the engine could be richer than the engine is rated for, this leads to non-combusted methane being exhausted. By simply conditioning the gas one could eliminate this venting of unburned methane, improving the “greenhouse gas” score of the site.
Federal tax dollars have been set aside, roughly $350 billion, over the next 5yrs to be spent domestically in methane abatement projects. As operators these dollars are there to help fund potential projects that lead to lowering the methane emissions. To take advantage of these dollars placing more efficient monitoring and deployment of advanced data analytic tools to constantly streamline your processes are needed. In addition, a true bi–annual reporting structure will need to be in place showing the physical reduction of methane and other GHG’s to qualify.
Evaluating methane abatement projects has both the advantage of reducing methane emissions to meet new government mandates, but can potentially add profitability to the bottom line by optimally tuning a system. Finally, as a collective whole, oil and gas operators and individuals need to play a more active role in trade organizations to demand legislators stop bottle necking the permitting process. Many times venting occurs because the associated methane has no place to go since permits for gas recovery and processing plants are hung up in bureaucratic agenda.
Author: Benjamin (Ben) Day