Methane Emissions Reductions Stand To Back Up Canada’s Clean Energy Claims

Mandated reductions in methane emissions are not only technologically feasible, but they will serve to cement the assertion Canada is a global leader in low-emissions natural gas production, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) manager, Alberta Operations.

“It’s all about leadership. There’s no other jurisdiction in the world that’s doing what we’re doing in oil and gas in Western Canada right now,” Wayne Hillier said at the Petroleum Technology Alliance Canada (PTAC) Methane Emissions Reduction Forum recently.

“That’s global leadership, that’s environmental leadership, and I’ll propose that there’s a business opportunity here as well. When we meet the requirements of the provincial and federal methane regulations, we can stand behind the statement that Canadian gas is the cleanest in the world,” he said.

“We say that now — we’ll have the data to demonstrate that. And if we can say our gas is the cleanest in the world, then we can say our LNG [liquefied natural gas] is the cleanest in the world. This will position Canada to be the preferred global supplier of LNG in the future.”

Incoming federal and provincial regulations require a 45 per cent cut in emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas estimated to account for as much as a quarter of global warming.

The oil and gas industry, the largest source of methane emissions in Alberta, has developed the technology capable of accomplishing the cuts, though more research and development is needed to bring down the costs of monitoring and mitigating the emissions, participants to the forum heard.

Programs in place to encourage early reductions can actually reduce the costs of compliance and start generating revenues before mandatory cuts come into force, Brian Van Vliet, Environment Solutions lead at Spartan Controls, told the forum. He agreed that the technology already exists to allow the industry to meet the emissions reductions targets.

“It exists today and it can be deployed — we just need to get on with it. There is a lot of investment in R&D, which is happening concurrently and it needs to happen, but I think absolutely with what we have the ability to do today, we just need to deploy it.”

As stated in PTAC president Soheil Asgarpour's opening statement at the forum, “Finding economic and cost effective solutions to meet our methane emissions reduction by 2025 is a daunting task. However, collaboration will enable us to collectively meet this target.” This is why collaborative networks such as the Clean Resource Innovation Network (CRIN) and its methane-centric group, the Methane Emissions Reduction Network (MERN), are vital to the industry, he said.

And the Calgary-based Methane Emissions Leadership Alliance (MELA) brings together businesses that develop, manufacture or deploy commercial technologies that help reduce methane emissions. Established in 2016, MELA serves as a hub for businesses that offer innovative and accessible solutions to methane emissions reductions and works to build comprehensive methane emissions management plans.

Industry support

Hillier said industry remains fully supportive of the mandated reductions, which were initially agreed with the U.S. and Mexico in 2016. The current U.S. administration is seeking to weaken the regulations, though several oil and gas producing states have remained committed to regulated reductions.

The federal regulations take effect in January with initial reporting requirements as companies prepare to put reductions plans into place. B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan are proposing equivalency regulations of their own which are not yet approved.

Hillier said much has been learned over the past three years through a number of industry studies and that technologies are under development that will continue to bring down the cost of compliance.

In order to deliver cost-effective technologies, processes and practices, which can be used to inform regulation, two important aspects need to be recognized, Hillier said. “It needs to be scientifically credible, to stand the review of not just industry, but government and multi stakeholders, the public and indeed the environmental community. And we also need to have the regulator at the table for project planning, scoping, deployment and review.”

And thus far the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) and industry associations like PTAC have moved the process forward in terms of developing a roadmap to get to the ultimate goal of compliance by 2025. “I can’t emphasize enough the collaboration with the AER has been stellar. I’ll add as well the collaboration with academics and the technology and service providers has indeed been stellar as well,” he said.

The three main areas of focus have been developing an inventory of emissions, examining the level of leak detection and repair (LDAR) frequency needed, and development of alternate detection and qualification technologies.

“We have made tremendous advances in all three. We have a sound understanding of our emissions inventory now — the contribution of fugitives, pneumatic devices and tanks to the overall inventory. That’s really important to know because it allows us to focus our efforts.”

The industry also has a better understanding of the relative benefits of three, two or once a year LDAR frequency, and has deployed in the field emerging alternative detection and quantifications technologies. “And we are proud to say that there is a real opportunity for these technologies to be deployed in the future.”

What does that future look like? “I think it’s time to deploy. We have studied and studied and studied and with those learnings, I think it’s time to go to work… it’s time to deploy at scale,” said Hillier.

Part of the process will be proving out more cost-effective new technologies to the satisfaction of regulators. In many cases that process can be sped up through industry collaboration. The sharing of data and collaborative application of alternative detection and quantification technology solutions over shared geographical areas can bring about significant cost reductions.

“Not everything is ready for primetime right now, but there is a real case to be made for satellites, planes, trucks, drones and new handheld technologies to identify and detect and quantify methane emissions,” Hillier said.

“And when you stop and think about planes and satellites for a second, you don’t launch a satellite to look at one site or to look at one company, and you don’t fly a plane to visit three sites. These are technologies that can scan and cover large areas. So I do see this growing interest in a cooperative approach to methane detection, quantification and control.

“And there’s going to be a tremendous amount of data that’s generated from these programs, and we need to learn quickly how to manage it, how to review it, and how to learn from the data and take action on it.”

Solutions available

Van Vliet said so far, deployment of the technology varies. While many large producers have been leaders in taking on large projects and doing retrofits to low/no-bleed equipment for their assets, there is more variation among medium and small producers. Some have only started to investigate what the new regulations require, while others have already completely made the transition to non-venting wellsites.

For those that have not yet instituted compliance plans, he said a carrot approach is preferable to talking about the cost of noncompliance. Early movers stand to benefit from applying the technology right now, he points out. For example, switching from high-bleed fuel gas-driven pneumatic devices to low- or no-bleed compressed air or electric devices (pumps, actuators, etc.) can earn emissions credits until such time as retrofits become mandatory. For brownfield (existing) sites that date is Jan 1, 2023 and for greenfield sites, the dates are Jan 1, 2021 in B.C. and Jan 1, 2022 in Alberta.

“There is a real business case that can be made for doing the install of this technology today because that window of time [before retrofits become mandatory] is actually decreasing and your return on investment decreases with that period of time,” he said.

“There are programs in place with companies like Cap-Op Energy (CCSI) and Bluesource where they are funding the effort to do the retrofits, and that actually is a real enabler for a single producer to be participating in a program as just one company in a larger aggregate — it’s a huge enabler.”

The specific solutions will be unique to each company and a holistic approach should be taken to understand what fit-for-purpose solutions are going to be deployed. In the meantime, it’s important not to be distracted by any uncertainty around the directives as provinces work to establish their own equivalency regulations.

“It’s really important with reference to the regulations that we know where we need to go, and as long as we continue to exceed the regulatory requirements, we have the ability to generate offsets.”

Companies can also apply learnings from other jurisdictions like the U.S., where some states have already mandated things like low-bleed instruments and tighter regulations on tank venting, which is emerging as a larger than expected source of emissions in Canada.

Spartan, for example, has developed technologies for the U.S. market too that can be deployed relatively risk-free today. Similarly, technologies perfected here offer export opportunities as other jurisdictions ramp up mitigation efforts.

“We certainly have learnings [from other areas],” Van Vliet said. “We have the ability to test these technologies in other jurisdictions, including the lower 48 in the U.S., to prove them out, and the use of those technologies actually encourages adoption elsewhere — the case studies ultimately promote their use in other areas.”

The content of this article has been reviewed and approved by sponsor Spartan Controls.

Spartan Controls is the leading provider of automation, valves, measurement, and process control technology and solutions in Western Canada. For over 55 years, Spartan has provided Customers with high performance automation solutions, industry expertise, lifecycle support, and technical training — delivering value our Customers want. 

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