Lucien Joppen - 5 November 2020
With the focus on CO2 and CO2 emissions reduction, methane has slipped under the radar for the longest time. However, this is about to change, depending on which continent you live. If it’s up to the EU, the natural gas supply chain – within and outside of the EU – needs to curb its methane emissions from the well to the end customer.
For many stake holders, including the oil and gas industry, these reductions are needed to keep natural gas on the map as the transitional fossil fuel with the lowest GHG-footprint. If the industry is able to slash further into its methane footprint, it will be unbeatable, see the comparison with coal.
At Gastech 2018, held in Barcelona, Maarten Wetselaar (Integrated Gas & New Energies Director at Shell), told the audience that greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas are already lower than coal in electricity generation up to a methane leakage rate of 3.5 per cent when measured over 20 years. “Today, the IEA estimates that natural gas operations have an average methane leakage rate of 1.7 per cent”, stated Wetselaar. (…) “Leakage rates can be lower, so there is an opportunity for gas to expand this major environmental benefit.”
As Wetselaar has mentioned, the environmental benefit from a global warming perspective is significant, especially on the short(er) term. Methane is a fast-acting gas that traps 84 to 87 times more heat in the atmosphere than CO2 in the first twenty years after release. Taking 100 years as a time horizon, CO2 packs a bigger punch so to speak.
As for methane emissions mitigation, there are various options for the industry to reduce emissions. Less venting (and subsequent selling) of methane is an option. Adressing leaks through LDAR-programs is another route to go. A third option is to replace existing valve configurations with alternatives that are performing better in terms of methane leakage rates.
Apart from these actions, methane emissions need to be monitored (better) on various levels. Currently, the numbers on methane emissions are estimates and the various sources (agriculture, oil/gas, other sources) need to be separated more precisely to attribute the reduction efforts to the respective industries or sectors. There are various projects dedicated to optimize monitoring, for example via a specific MethaneSAT that will be able to monitor larger sections such as industrial clusters. To conclude, methane will be under increased scrutiny from various stakeholders (governments, suppliers, NGO’s etc.).
As with any change, this will come with threats and opportunities.