The US Oil and Gas Industry is Laser-Focused on Cutting Methane Emissions

The US Oil and Gas Industry is Laser-Focused on Cutting Methane Emissions
AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty

The oil and natural gas industry is laser-focused on reducing methane emissions from production for two very important reasons.

First, the risks of climate change are real, requiring real solutions. Our industry takes these risks seriously, and we are driving solutions – evident in our innovation and technical work and in our long working relationship with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Second, our members are in the business of providing natural gas, of which methane is the chief component, for clean electricity generation, to heat Americans’ homes and to supply manufacturers and other businesses that have realized billions in cost savings as a result. There’s no question that industry is highly motivated to capture as much methane as possible for progress on climate goals and for its customers.

The results speak for themselves. While natural gas production increased more than 50 percent from 1990-2017, methane emissions from natural gas systems decreased 14 percent. Overall U.S. methane emissions decreased 15 percent.

Let’s put a fine point on those numbers: During a period of significant production growth – with affordable energy driving the economy and generating billions of dollars in revenues for governments for spending on education, roads and other public priorities – methane emissions went down.

At the same time, domestic natural gas and oil production has played a major role in increasing U.S. energy security and independence while making our nation a global energy superpower – able to help friends and allies abroad by sending them American natural gas and oil. All of these broadly benefit American society and Americans’ way of life.

Some background: EPA data shows methane makes up about 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with 36 percent of that coming from agriculture and 31 percent from our industry. For a number of years the natural gas and oil industry has been at the forefront of research and initiatives to address those emissions.

In 2001, API was among the first organizations in the world to release guidance for estimating GHG emissions from natural gas and oil operations, a tool that is vital for understanding emissions so that we can take steps to manage and reduce them.

Soon after issuing that important guidance, API released its SANGEA software platform for estimating and reporting greenhouse gas emissions, an important tool that’s relied upon around the world for calculating and compiling GHG emissions and energy usage data from exploration and production, gas processing, refining and marketing, petrochemicals, transportation, electricity consumption, manufacturing, coal mining, and other activities.

On top of that, API has collaborated with IPIECA and the International Oil & Gas Producers Association, two global industry organizations, in the publishing of Oil and Gas Industry Guidance on Voluntary Sustainability Reporting, a critical tool that guides the industry in its reporting of GHG emissions.

It might surprise some, but API’s working relationship with EPA is a constructive one that has seen industry share information about rapidly changing technologies while hosting site visits so that EPA staff can best understand emissions sources and how to control them. The U.S. energy revolution also is a technology revolution, with extensive innovations for addressing emissions that include reduced emission completions, low-emission valves and leak detection through sophisticated optical gas imaging cameras.

Our industry has been using many of these technologies for years, and EPA’s own regulations now incorporate many of these innovations. According to our estimates, as more and more sites are phased into production, EPA’s regulatory requirements will apply to about 85 percent of U.S. oil and natural gas production by 2023, and 97 percent of production by 2033, and continuing to grow.

Informed by EPA’s emissions inventory and reporting data that pinpoints the primary sources of production-related methane emissions, the oil and natural gas industry established The Environmental Partnership in late 2017 to specifically target key emissions sources.

Just over a year later, The Partnership has grown to 59 companies, representing about 40 percent of total U.S. natural gas production. These companies are going above and beyond to deploy the most advanced emissions reduction technologies and to share their operational experiences and knowledge to reduce emissions. We are proud to say that The Partnership now includes our country’s largest and our country’s smallest natural gas producers.

Our industry is action oriented and results driven. U.S. oil production is at its highest level ever, oil imports are at their lowest level in more than 20 years, and carbon dioxide and other emissions are at their lowest levels in a generation because of clean energy technologies.

In all of this, API is center stage in efforts to further reduce methane emissions from our operations, continuously developing new technologies and techniques as we innovate and address challenges – while providing affordable energy that’s vital to Americans’ lives, businesses and commerce, and to all of our futures.

Erik Milito is the American Petroleum Institute’s Vice President of Upstream and Industry Operations.

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