Methane (CH4) is a greenhouse gas that is much more effective — nearly 25 times — than carbon dioxide (CO2) in trapping heat in the atmosphere. With global concentration levels increasing by more than 150 percent in the last 250 years (PDF), scientists and industry experts alike have sought ways to reduce methane emissions from anthropogenic sources such as agricultural production (the largest source) and natural gas systems (the second largest source).
In 2012, environmental advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) suggested 10 methane control technologies (PDF) that would “capture more than 80 percent” of methane that escapes throughout the natural gas recovery workflow, potentially bringing in an additional $2 billion in industry revenues. While the effectiveness of those technologies wasn’t made clear by the NRDC in its white paper, a year later the EPA suggested a few of the same technologies (PDF) in a workshop for its Natural Gas STAR Program. Both entities, for example, suggested replacing high-bleed pneumatic controllers of pressure, flow, and level with more efficient low- and no-bleed controllers. They both also discussed the benefits of using a plunger lift system for liquids unloading operations at wells, reducing or eliminating gas venting while production and energy use is optimized. Other technologies proposed by both groups included “green completions” at wells during non-production phases, improved leak detection technologies, and more extensive repair and maintenance programs.
These sorts of changes may best be realized through voluntary programs, American Petroleum Institute (API) regulatory affairs director Howard Feldman recently argued. “Voluntary programs are the best way to reduce methane emissions from existing sources,” he told Reuters in reference to the announcement the EPA made concerning its Natural Gas STAR Methane Challenge Program. The program would reportedly provide a transparent tracking mechanism for participants to report their methane reduction efforts. This proposed EPA program falls on the heels of a January 2015 announcement by the Obama Administration of new goals to reduce methane emissions by the oil and gas industry by up to 45 percent by 2025. Industry leaders have argued additional regulation isn’t necessary given methane emission decreases (12.2 percent according to the latest EPA data) since 1990; however, the Administration projects a 25 percent increase by 2025 “without new measures to control emissions.”