Soon methane emissions from upstream oil and gas production will be further targeted by federal Canadian legislation. On January 1, 2020, it will be required that leak detection and repair (LDAR) programs are used more frequently and effectively meaning Canadian oil and gas companies will need to monitor and repair their pipes, tanks, and gadgets under more strict leakage limits. For reference, certain infrastructure leak and venting allowances will be decreased by almost a factor of 9. I consider more operator accountability in Canada to be a step in the right direction, although it brings difficult and large questions (and costs) to the table.
How can oil and gas operators afford to measure more accurately and frequently?
How can we support these economic giants while they transition?
Who is responsible for developing feasible alternative measurement techniques?
Below is a simplified breakdown of the 5Ws for developing alternative methane measurement techniques.
Who cares? In a nutshell, everybody and their dog should care. But the real drivers developing alternative methane measurement systems are within government-research-industry bodies, and each member of this trio is needed for success.
The Canadian government plays an obvious role as the enforcer of new methane emissions rules, but their involvement is more complex than just handing out the tickets of the O&G industry. Policy makers understand that policy needs to be feasible. For many companies it would be a financial nightmare to use existing measurement techniques, as they are costly and time consuming. The goal is not to squash the oil and gas industry, but to foster a culture where accountability and financial dividends go hand in hand. What a tough job!
Research & Development groups are competing to provide their best version of an affordable and effective measurement system. There are a handful of emerging technologies with great potential being explored, but the solution might not be as simple as picking the best one (see “How” section).
It may be tempting to downplay the role of oil and gas operators in the race to develop measurement techniques, but at the end of the day they use the tools created by researchers and report their leaks (or lack of) to governing bodies. In my experience, many O&G companies are already committed to greener practices and want to avoid the regulatory penalties associated with methane emissions rules.
O&G companies have infrastructure across Canada that transports, holds, and processes methane (or products that methane hangs around with). FluxLab and others are developing tools that allow O&G operators to measure whether methane is escaping its confining infrastructure. These tools are an alternative to traditional techniques, such as EPA Method 21, and will reduce the costs and time spent measuring infrastructure using standard methods. More efficient measuring makes it possible for O&G companies to prove they comply with policy.
Innovative measurement techniques will be deployed across Canada; at production and storage sites, or anywhere you can find a pipeline. Research and development of methane measurement techniques is happening globally as groups are developing substantially different techniques that will all play a role in finding a methane measurement solution. Here in FluxLab we have developed mobile-based measurement systems on platforms such as snowmobile, backpack, and most notably our iconic pickup trucks.
The methane molecule’s status as a greenhouse gas (GHG) heavyweight came decades after CO2 entered the spotlight, and consequentially research surrounding methane lagged. However now as a buzzed about GHG, methane measurement techniques are garnering deserved attention.
FluxLab has been developing methane measurement systems for 5 years + and has contributed patented products to the market already. Expect the 2020 federal regulation to drive development and acceptance of alternative measurement systems like ours.
Climate Change! We need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Deadline: yesterday.
The requirement to increase measurement accuracy and frequency will cost O&G companies money, and plans must be feasible. Sending people to all of their infrastructure sites using traditional measurement techniques may be unrealistic for some operators and reduce their incentive to comply. If we provide O&G operators with an affordable, safe, and efficient tool to demonstrate their emissions compliance they will be more likely to do business in Canada.
Numerous technologies directly or indirectly measure methane ranging from on-site sniffing analyzers that capture a small parcel of air from the leak itself, to satellite images that measure entire columns of the atmosphere. Some of these technologies are conceptually similar, while others utilize entirely different branches of science. The mechanisms behind these measurement techniques are often based on laser-absorption, temperature differentials, and proxy measurements such as vegetation and tracer gases. As you can imagine, these differing techniques are capable of measuring leaks at different scales, and generally the larger the scale, the lower the measurement resolution.
It is important to ascertain how different technologies and measurement systems stack up against each other, and there is no overall “winner.” Certain techniques, like OGI cameras, are very good at pinpointing the exact location of a leak, while aircraft are super effective at quantifying large-scale leaks. Other techniques such as mobile and stationary monitoring can lend themselves to a wider range of leak sizes, but the bottom line is that no one technique can do it all. As Thomas Fox and coauthors suggest, people are looking for one solution, when a network of measurement techniques will do the best job.
Why spend money inspecting every pipe, valve, and tank with traditional time-intensive techniques when you could screen your entire field with low-resolution techniques, and inspect only the identified leaks? This is where methane measurement is headed, and the market and players are currently being defined. We, at FluxLab, have become experts in our realm, and are excited to contribute within this synergetic marketplace. Together we will reduce Canada’s GHG emissions (cue Canadian Heritage Minute).
By Jack Johnson