As the EPA prepares to regulate methane emissions, the AAAS Center for Scientific Evidence in Public Issues hosted a webinar to explore policy approaches from researchers, practitioners and engineers. Improved methane monitoring and assessment will speed strategic decision making and innovation to reduce methane emissions. Noted experts and practitioners discussed the scientific evidence that can inform federal, state, regional, and local efforts to mitigate methane emissions and their contributions to changing climatic conditions and to identify the most pressing issues related to potential changes in the regulation of methane emissions from the oil and gas industry. This interactive event allowed participants to share existing information, surface knowledge gaps, and discuss constraints to the implementation of evidence-informed solutions.
Howard R. Dieter, P.E., Vice President – Environmental, Health & Safety, Jonah Energy LLC
Kate Konschnik, Director, Climate & Energy Program, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, Duke University; Senior Lecturing Fellow, Duke University School of Law
Uduak-Joe Ntuk, California State Oil and Gas Supervisor, California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM); California Department of Conservation
Dr. Arvind Ravikumar, Research Associate Professor, Hildebrand Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering, Cockrell School of Engineering, The University of Texas at Austin; Payne Institute for Public Policy Fellow, Colorado School of Mines; Initiative for Sustainable Energy Policy Fellow, School of Advanced and International Studies, Johns Hopkins University
Moderated by Dr. Zachary Valdez, Advanced Manufacturing Policy Fellow at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Advanced Manufacturing National Program Office (AMNPO).
Key takeaways from the discussion
Most methane emissions come from a few “super-emitters” –sites that release a large volume of methane due to improper operation or an accident, such as a jammed valve or an unlit flare. The detection and prevention of such super-emitters is a priority for researchers, industry, and regulators.
Technology to reliably monitor and measure methane emissions already exists. Equipment upgrades and simple changes to operational practices can yield substantial economic and environmental benefits. Existing equipment can be retrofitted to reduce methane emissions. Altering and improving maintenance and operational procedures can significantly reduce methane emissions with relatively little cost and effort. Inspection and maintenance programs use specialized equipment, such as optical gas imaging (OGI) or other sensors, to identify and measure methane emission sources. Recently, new measurement technologies and the use of planes, drones, and satellites have improved data coverage and accuracy. Modeling tools such as the Fugitive Emissions Abatement Simulation Toolkit (FEAST), developed by Dr. Arvind Ravikumar, University of Texas at Austin, make it easier to evaluate the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of different approaches.
Interest in cost-effective and innovative technology spurred the emergence and growth of a new sector. The methane mitigation industry in the U.S. has nearly doubled since 2017. Today, there are more than 200 methane mitigation companies across the country offering solutions to measure, monitor, and mitigate methane emissions.
Regulators often collaborate with researchers or industry to monitor, measure, and report methane emissions. Better understanding of methane emissions has spurred the adoption of robust policies in California, Colorado, New Mexico, Maryland, Ohio, North Dakota, Alaska, and Wyoming that exceed existing federal standards. For example, California’s methane regulations cover methane emissions from oil and gas production, processing, storage, and transmission infrastructure. California’s regulations require oil and gas producers to address both fugitive and vented methane emissions from new and existing oil and gas facilities and mandate compliance with control plans, leak testing, and timely repairs.
In 2020, New Mexico banned routine venting and flaring of methane from oil and gas production facilities. Now, researchers and industry in the state are working to collect data to identify natural gas losses at every stage of the process. Once information is collected, regulators will require operators, including those that manage pipelines or wells or other infrastructure, to capture more gas each year based on these baseline measurements. The target will be to capture 98% of all gaseous waste by the end of 2026. If operators fail to meet the state’s targets, regulators can deny them drilling permits.
However, current state and federal methane emission reporting requirements and greenhouse gas inventories do not always align with state or federal regulatory regimes. Aligning these requirements and regimes will ensure information is shared to inform compliance and enforcement of regulatory obligations. New technologies and monitoring systems can provide data to support the adoption of measurement-and performance-based regulations, similar to those applied to the oil and gas industry in other countries and in other U.S. industrial sectors.
Environmental Protection Agency: Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks
Environmental Protection Agency: Voluntary Methane Programs for the Oil and Natural Gas Industry
United Nations Environment Program: Global Methane Assessment: Benefits and Costs of Mitigating Methane Emissions