The emphasis on ESG – environmental, social, and governance standards – in the natural gas industry continues to build, as two Appalachian natural gas producers have announced reductions in their carbon footprint.
EQT recently announced that it plans to achieve net-zero emissions by 2025, according to their annual ESG report. CNX also announced recently that it is net carbon negative - meaning that more CO2 emissions are removed from the atmosphere than are emitted by the company’s operations.
ESG has been a topic at the forefront of the natural gas industry as government and industry leaders consider how to reduce the carbon footprint in the U.S. and meet or exceed the goals of the Paris Accord on climate. Natural gas is a fossil fuel, but its carbon emissions when burned are far less than coal. If its use could be meshed with carbon capture and sequestration, gas could be a fuel used far into the future, even as renewables such as solar and wind continue to make strides in becoming viable carbon-free energy sources that can be used on a large scale.
CNX President and CEO Nick DeIuliis touted the news that his company has already achieved net-zero goals and is actually net carbon negative for scope 1 and scope 2 emissions. Scope 1 emissions are those from the company’s operations, while scope 2 emissions are from the purchase of electricity and heat.
While others in the energy industry “continue to speak in the abstract and distant future about ESG,” CNX has taken a different approach, he said. “Our tangible, impactful, and local ESG approach coupled with our non-replicable asset base results in a net carbon negative footprint today.” CNX is a gas producer with 4,400 wells, as well as a midstream operation with 2,500 miles of pipelines.
Net carbon negative status was achieved through the annual abatement of over 300,000 metric tons of third-party methane a year, as well as being the first company to adopt electric fracking fleets, and adoption of leak control detection. The amount of methane being abated is equal to about 7.5 million metric tons of CO2 annually. CNX for years has been capturing the methane from a coal mine in Virginia and sending it by pipeline to a local power plant to generate electricity.
Methane is a greenhouse gas more than 25 times more potent that CO2 and coal mines are major emitters. Global methane emissions from coal mines were estimated to reach nearly 800 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2020, accounting for 9 percent of total global methane emissions. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
U.S. coal mines emitted nearly four billion cubic meters or 61 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2015. Between 1990 and 2015, U.S. emissions decreased by 40 percent, in large part due to the coal mining industry's increased recovery and utilization of drained gas and decrease in ventilation of air methane emissions.
Among the changes EQT has implemented to reduce its emissions are moving to combo development, where multiple wells are drilled in the same area, increasing development speed, reducing the number of rigs, and lowering water transportation costs; transitioning to electric fracking fleets, where natural gas from the site powers a turbine; and entering into a pilot project with Project Canary to monitor emissions of methane from wells in real time. The company has also begun replacing valves on its pneumatic devices that move fluid on well pads, which were responsible for more than 50 percent of its direct methane emissions. In addition, it is developing real-time digital monitoring for all well operations for greater control and so that methane emissions can be predicted.
Moving forward, EQT CEO Toby Rice is a proponent of so-called “blue hydrogen,” or hydrogen made from natural gas. The term “blue hydrogen” refers to the fact that the process still creates some GHG emissions, which are mitigated with carbon capture technology. “Green hydrogen” is produced through electrolysis, with no emissions but at a much greater cost. Hydrogen can be fed through a fuel cell to make electricity while producing only water as a byproduct and could be a future fuel source for long-distance transportation.
Other Appalachian gas producers are also working to meet ESG goals, including Range Resources, which announced in June that it has also partnered with Project Canary monitor emissions as it moves toward its goal of being net-zero for GHG emissions by 2025.
The emphasis on improving environmental performance reflects the increasing importance being placed on carbon reduction throughout the industrial sector.