Regulation & Innovation: NS researchers strive to help reduce methane emissions in the Canadian oil patch

Society’s attention to the rising challenge of managing and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions has never been greater. Environmental movements are no longer driven by small political or civic organizations, they are official policy of nations and industry titans. GHG emissions are an especially hot topic in Canada, where our energy consumption (per capita) is higher than nearly anywhere on earth1. We produce energy to serve domestic needs and export it abroad to meet foreign demand. Our high consumption and position as energy producers means Canada is a serious GHG emitter. But we are also innovative.

Canadian scientists and entrepreneurs are working in step to propel technologies forward and help reduce climate impact from the energy industry. At StFX, I work with FluxLab, a group of such scientists who specialize in measuring emissions from the oil and gas. FluxLab focuses on fugitive and vented emissions which involve unintended (fugitive) or deliberate (vented) releases of methane from oil and gas infrastructure during exploration, production, transportation or distribution processes2. Methane is a pressing subject because, measured over a 20-year period, it is 84 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2. Studies show that methane emissions are likely underreported and therefore underestimated, which makes it difficult to predict their climate impact3. Current inventories estimate that fugitive and vented methane emissions from Canada’s oil and gas sector contribute over 7.5 % of our total GHG emissions4 – that’s equivalent to 11-million extra cars on the road per year.

The importance of reducing emissions from the energy sector have been prioritized by federal and provincial governments, energy regulators, and industry. Ottawa adopted a goal of reducing methane emissions by 40-45 % (based on 2012 levels) by 2025, with further reductions through 20305. This type of policy will be critical if Canada is to meet 2030 targets under the Paris Agreement, as well as its net-zero 2050 aspirations. The commitment to a 40+ % reduction was followed by the $750-Million Emissions Reduction Fund to stimulate adoption of cleaner technologies5. By lowering methane emissions from energy production, Canadian companies will drastically reduce national methane load, and become more competitive in international markets which increasingly seek lower carbon fuels.

As Canada strives toward more sustainable energy production, FluxLab is working to deliver new technology and further emissions reduction research. One major tech outcome is the ExACT© mobile survey system, a vehicle-based methane detection unit using high precision sensory equipment and algorithms to monitor fugitive and vented methane emissions at oil and gas sites6. Our industrial research also seeks to build and improve methane inventories for relevant stakeholders. For example, the xCanada synthesis project gathered methane emissions data from the biggest oil and gas production regions to bolster sparse inventories and improve our baseline understanding of current emissions. FluxLab will continue its efforts to delineate the methane problem and further technologies and knowledge that can help reduce it.

Energy production is a major source of GHG emissions, and a key contributor of human caused climate change. The world is relying on governance that heeds scientific advice, and researchers who work on mitigation solutions in the race between a warming planet and our ever-growing demand for energy. Strong science and sound policy can pave the way to a more sustainable future.

Mark Argento

Notes and References

1. World Bank (2021). CO2 emissions (metric ton per capita). Accessed March 8, 2021

2. Environment and Climate Change Canada (2018). Canada’s methane regulations for the upstream oil and gas sector. Accessed March 8, 2021

3. Chan, E., Worthy, D. E., Chan, D., Ishizawa, M., Moran, M. D., Delcloo, A., & Vogel, F. (2020). Eight-Year Estimates of Methane Emissions from Oil and Gas Operations in Western Canada Are Nearly Twice Those Reported in Inventories. Environmental Science & Technology54(23), 14899-14909.

4. Environment and Climate Change Canada (2020). National Inventory Report 1990-2018: Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada. Accessed March 8, 2021

5. Environment and Climate Change Canada (2020). Government of Canada working with provinces to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations. Accessed March 8, 2021

6. StFX University (2019). StFX’s Technology Awarded U.S. Patent. Accessed March 15, 2021