Don't Let Go - Reducing Intentional Releases of Natural Gas Spurred by ESG Objectives, Regulations

Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is the second-most-abundant greenhouse gas tied to human activity after carbon dioxide, and pound-for-pound has 25 times the heat-trapping potential of CO2. We also know that a considerable portion of methane emissions come from the oil and gas industry, not just from leaks but from intentional releases such as “blowdowns,” when operators vent natural gas into the atmosphere to relieve pressure in the pipe and allow maintenance, testing, and other work to take place. Sure, it would be better for the environment and most everybody involved if there was a way to capture natural gas instead of releasing it. (Spoiler alert: there is.) But what are the incentives for producers, pipeline owners, or local distribution companies invest in a solution? Today, we consider what midstreamers, transmission operators, and LDCs can do to minimize blowdowns.

In 2021, you can’t talk about the energy business without considering the fact that producing, processing, transporting, and consuming hydrocarbons generates greenhouse gases (GHGs), or that the global drive to reduce GHGs has reached critical mass. As we said in our series on environmental, social, and governmental (ESG) issues, climate change is a major, if not the top, concern for regulators, investors and lenders — upstream, midstream, and downstream oil and gas companies that ignore this do so at the risk of turning away from some potential investors. GHGs also figure in a number of other topics we’ve blogged about, including hydrogen — which some see as a low- or no-carbon energy alternative — and Low Carbon Fuel Standards.

According to the EPA, carbon dioxide (CO2) accounts for more than 80% of U.S. GHG emissions from anthropogenic sources — things that humans are responsible for, such as driving, generating electricity, running factories, and heating homes and offices. However, while CO2 tends to dominate the conversation, there are other GHGs, and few if any are more impactful than methane.

Methane accounts for about 10% of U.S. emissions from human activity. So, why is it so important? Because methane packs a hefty punch. Just one million pounds of methane has the same heat-trapping effect in the atmosphere as 25 million pounds of CO2. Also, methane’s lifetime in the atmosphere (about 10 years before it fully decays) is much shorter than that of CO2 (hundreds of years). Which means that if the U.S. and other countries succeed in significantly reducing methane emissions in this decade, the potential benefit of slowing down climate change will be more immediate and effective.

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