R&D program seeks to reduce methane emissions

The emission of methane from oil and gas operations has become the topic of considerable debate of late. It largely contributes to greenhouse gas emission and potentially contributes to global warming over 20 times that of carbon dioxide. In addition to being a major contributor to green house gas emission, it is considered to have quite a substantial value. Annual methane emissions globally from oil and gas industries, are equivalent to $10-$23 billion worth of natural gas lost to the atmosphere.

In 2010, offshore production of oil and natural gas made up 9% of methane emissions from the US production sector and 6% of total methane emissions, accounting for 41% of total methane emissions in the petroleum sector. The emissions come from a number of different sources, including drilling and production platforms, service fleets and pipelines (both offshore and onshore).

In response to the growing debate in the US, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued the first-ever standards to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector in May 2016. The standards, and associated regulations, are predicted to reduce 510,000 short tons of methane by 2025.

At the same time, an Interagency Methane Strategy was initiated by the Obama administration under the Climate Action Plan. The US Department of Energy (DOE) was enlisted to “continue to conduct research and analysis to help improve our ability to measure methane emissions and advance technologies and practices that will enable cost-effective emissions reductions”.

The result was the September 2016 announcement by DOE of a natural gas infrastructure R&D program to enhance operational efficiency while reducing emissions. $13 million of total program funding will be awarded to 12 multi-year research projects. This new initiative by the Office of Fossil Energy builds upon the President’s Climate Action Plan Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions.

Colorado Projects

Colorado State University (Fort Collins, Colorado).

The University of Colorado and AECOM will:

  1. Develop nationally-representative, activity-weighted, emission factors for each type of principal equipment located at typical gathering compressor stations suitable for use in EPA’s GHGI;
  2. Develop estimates of episodic emissions; and
  3. Test new methods to characterize intermittent device emissions.

The primary objectives include conducting a field measurement campaign, consolidating and publishing measurement results, developing a national model of gathering operations, and publishing a national model of methane emissions, including activity-weighted emission factors.

University of Colorado Boulder (Boulder, Colorado).

University of Colorado Boulder, along with NIST, University of California-Davis, and Scientific Aviation, will collect ground-based regional scale measurements and aircraft measurements in order to estimate emissions across the underground storage sector. The project will consist of multi-month deployments of a ground based dual frequency comb spectrometer in conjunction with multiple, focused aircraft mass balance flights at oil and natural gas storage facilities.


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