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Report Discusses Current State of Pipeline Leak Detection

Fugitive emissions are a major problem in the oil and gas industry. A new report by Highwood Emissions Management explores the current state of fugitive emissions and discusses the state-of-the-art leak detection methods that currently exist on the commercial market. In 2019, 80 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions consisted of carbon dioxide, an overwhelming majority compared to other greenhouse gases. At just 10 percent of 2019’s emissions profile, methane may seem more innocuous than carbon dioxide, but its chemical structure makes it 25 times more potent at trapping heat when released into the atmosphere. Work should be done to reduce or negate all greenhouse gas emissions, and much is being done to curb methane emissions, according to the report. Methane is commonly emitted from the oil and gas sector, particularly from pipelines in the form of fugitive emissions. Fugitive emissions are simply unwanted or unplanned leaks, in this case from natural gas pipelines and equipment. Traditionally, pipelines are inspected using what the report calls legacy methods. These methods include visual inspection of pipelines, using handheld sensors to find leaks, and simply monitoring pressures. Though most commonly used, these practices are inadequate and obsolete as new technologies in advanced leak detection (ALD) are being brought onto the market. The report notes that the current ALD market has over 100 new scalable and cost-effective technologies for better leak detection. Though there are many ALDs, some examples include the use of sensor-equipped passenger aircraft, satellites, and drones. When coupled with better operating and maintenance practices, ALDs present an opportunity to drastically reduce or eliminate pipeline fugitive emissions. Federal regulators have had their eye on pipeline-based emissions, passing the PIPES Act of 2020, an update of federal pipeline safety mandates. As the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has federal oversight of the nation’s pipelines, the Act was designed to “strengthen PHMSA’s safety authority”, and “will help PHMSA fulfill its mission of protecting people and the environment.” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has also proposed new rules to sharply reduce methane emissions from the industry. A number of gas producers have been moving to state-of-the-art methane reduction methods, including partnering with third-party monitoring and verification companies such as Project Canary. These companies can provide real-time monitoring and certify that gas is being produced in a responsible manner by looking at a company’s environmental, governmental, and social performance. That gas is then marketed as “responsibly sourced gas” (RSG), which some end users prefer for their own environmental goals. The Center for Energy Policy will be presenting a free webinar on efforts to reduce methane emissions in the natural gas industry at 11 a.m. March 30, featuring speakers from Project Canary and the EPA. To register for the webinar, please click here!

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