Methane is a greenhouse gas that traps at least 25 times as much heat as carbon dioxide, and methane emissions are responsible for about one-third of global warming, Karen Marsh of the EPA told the audience at the start of the Center for Energy Policy and Management's recent webinar on efforts to reduce emissions in the natural gas sector.
“We are adding more methane than we can remove by natural methods, and the climate is changing,” Marsh said, with the dramatic increase mostly due to agriculture and fossil fuel use.
“The oil and gas sector is the largest industrial source of methane emissions,” she explained, which is why the Biden administration is proposing a series of rules to sharply reduce methane emissions from new and existing sources along the value chain, from the well site to storage tanks, compressor stations, and processing plants.
Marsh, an engineer who is a technical lead for developing such regulations, said the EPA has spent more than a year developing the changes to the Clean Air Act, which would provide federal standards for new, modified, and reconstructed sources while giving regulations to the states to oversee existing sources.
Key components of the proposal include more frequent monitoring of wells, equipment, and other facilities for leaks using optical cameras, and for the first time allowing the use of advanced technology, such as that provided by Project Canary, to meet the regulations. The proposal would also eliminate venting of natural gas and strengthen regulations for storage tanks.
“Overall, this rule has pretty significant impacts,” Marsh said, with about $4.5 billion in climate benefits a year. It would also increase recovery of natural gas that would otherwise be wasted, valued at $690 million in 2030, and significantly reduce smog-forming volatile organic compound emissions.
Marsh noted that there have been many technological innovations that have occurred in methane leak detection, that “allow us to better monitor for emissions, particularly unintended emissions.”
One of the companies providing advanced technology solutions for gas producers is Project Canary, and Max Goff, director of certifications, gave an overview of the innovations allowing gas producers to operate responsibly.
“Decarbonization begins with accurate data, and data is more and more important as time goes on,” said Goff. Project Canary is working to provide accurate and actionable data to its clients through a rigorous assessment of each site, continuous monitoring at well and equipment sites and evaluation of the data to ensure that gas is responsibly produced.
He explained that a company’s “social license to operate” and its environmental, social, and governance (ESG) standards are being taken into consideration more frequently by investors and banks. “A lot of operators are starting the get the message that this is where it is going,” he said.
“Not all operators are equal. Some of doing things better than everybody else, and frankly some are laggards,” he said. By looking at a company’s operation, and quantifying the information so emissions improvements can be made, companies can perform better. He also noted that while Project Canary is paid by operators for its data, “the standards we have put in place are set in stone. This is not a pay-to-play situation.”
Marsh said that after releasing the proposed regulations, EPA had public hearings and received 470,000 comments. The EPA is now developing a supplemental proposal that will be released later this year.