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Cover Me - With Methane Emissions, Solutions Can Be As Tricky to Pin Down As the Problem Itself

By now, just about everyone is aware of and has been impacted by efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions — and methane especially — as a way of meeting global climate goals, but that doesn’t mean everyone is on the same page. The energy industry is a leading source of methane emissions in the U.S., but with nearly 1 million active wells across the country and not much common ground on the actual scope of methane emissions and how best to reduce them, finding a path forward without overburdening the sector and its customers is more than a little tricky. In today’s RBN blog, we preview our latest Drill Down Report on efforts to reduce methane emissions.

Discussions around the ongoing energy transition often focus on the need to control and then reduce the volume of GHGs emitted into the atmosphere. And while carbon dioxide (CO2), the most prevalent GHG, often gets the most attention, methane is especially problematic. It is the primary constituent in pipeline natural gas and also a particularly potent GHG, with a Global Warming Potential (GWP) that is 25-36 times that of CO2 if normalized to a 100-year timeline. But methane emissions are neutralized in the atmosphere at a much quicker pace, meaning that their initial GWP is much higher, more like 86 times that of CO2 if normalized to a 20-year timeline. That means that making even modest reductions in unburned methane emissions is an important step in plans to blunt the long-term effects of man-made climate change.

The U.S. oil and gas sector accounted for the equivalent of 211 million metric tons of CO2 (based on the 100-year timeframe noted above; MMtCO2e) in 2020, according to the most recent industry-specific data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Those emissions are tied to several sources, with natural gas production (41%, 87 MMtCO2e) and oil production (19%, 41 MMtCO2e) responsible for the majority. Going one step further to look at emissions from production, most are tied to either pneumatic devices (35%) — which control gas flows, levels, temperature and pressure in the equipment — or gathering and boosting stations (29%). With 60% of the energy sector’s emissions tied directly to oil and gas production, it makes sense to target the emissions from the types of wells presumed to leak at the highest rates — the low-performing wells that can operate for decades after their high-performing years are done.

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