Understanding Oil and Gas Methane Emissions: Part 2 - Measurement and Mitigation

Date Posted

This blog post is the second installment in a two-part series about methane emissions. In the first post, we looked at how methane emissions are created and why there’s a push to reduce them. In this second post, we’ll share an overview of what’s being done to help industry cut emissions to meet regulatory requirements. This blog post was co-written by Suzanne Johnston and former SRC employee Paul Paynter.

src employee works in mobile emissions trailer

Measuring methane emissions isn’t easy; partly because of the sheer number of sites (conservatively, in the hundreds of thousands) and because of the types of oilfield facilities and installations where vastly varying quantities of methane may be intentionally or unintentionally released. 

Measurement requires significant effort and cost. Depending upon location and area, measurement requires a combination of manual and automated technologies and methods: satellite-based monitoring, fixed-wing aircraft with sensors, Unoccupied Aerial Vehicles (UAVs or drones), vehicles on the ground fitted with the right equipment, to oilfield workers and regulators carrying handheld sensors close to individual pumps, tanks, compressors and pipelines. 

All these technologies and methods potentially have a role to play—in Canada and beyond—in building a vital baseline of methane emissions for equipment and production sites on provincial, national and international levels. This can be done through scheduled measurement of oilfield equipment and/or by establishing commonly-agreed upon parameters and benchmarks around common methane emissions measured at typical installation sites (as appropriate, and as required by the relevant provincial and federal regulators). 

Establishing a baseline

A baseline is vital for regulators and industry for formulating regulatory requirements, facilitating and deploying the most appropriate technologies to reduce emissions and measuring the future impact of those deployments to meet target methane emission reductions. 

The Canadian Federal Government is targeting a 21-megatonne reduction in methane emissions in 2025, a reduction of 41 per cent below 2012 levels. This falls in the range of a 40-45 per cent reduction, which Canada committed to in March 2016 as part of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. Measurement is key. Establishing an accurate and commonly-accepted baseline is necessary to gauge future progress in achieving actual emissions reductions. 

Along with many others, SRC plays an important role here. 

src uses uavs to help detect methane gas at well sites
UAVs can detect methane leaks without needing on-foot assessments, so the leaks can be repaired faster.

Using UAVs for gas detection

Although methane, on its own, is non-toxic in low quantities, there are risks for humans when conducting ground-level detection on work sites. For safer practices, it is beneficial to shorten the amount of time humans spend on potentially hazardous terrain. 

Unoccupied Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) offer one potential solution: 

By creating a systematic inspection process, leaks can be detected and repaired faster, reducing the total amount of methane released into the atmosphere and the need for on-foot assessments. 

SRC, collaborating with Physical Sciences Inc., and with support from the Alberta Upstream Petroleum Research Fund, has stepped in to demonstrate and validate the technology in different gas leak detection scenarios. 

Laser-based UAV methane detection is another tool in the toolbox for reducing leaks, especially when used alongside other technologies such as infrared thermal imaging. Validating this technology may contribute to more efficient processes for detection and automated inspections that can be made part of routine maintenance. 

This potentially translates into safer, faster leak repair and ultimately a reduction in total GHG emissions. - Excerpted from How UAVs can help industry detect methane gas by Andy Goodson.

Besides instrumented mobile facilities for air quality monitoring and emissions testing, SRC also provides GHG verification and life cycle assessment. SRC also provides techno-economic assessments and real-world technology performance and emissions testing, both in the laboratory and at field sites across the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin.

Smart Technologies

The Advanced Methane Detection, Analytics and Mitigation Project is one of many significant industry-led methane-related initiatives being led or supported by organizations, such as the Petroleum Technology Alliance of Canada (PTAC), the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), the Methane Emissions Leadership Alliance (MELA) and other organizations, including SRC. 

According to PTAC, “This project will demonstrate the scalability and ability of various novel remote sensing sensors, software, solar electric systems and related technologies to detect, measure and mitigate methane in the Canadian upstream oil and gas sector. The project will focus on testing the technologies on major sources, primarily cold light/medium and heavy oil production, natural gas production, and surface casing vent flows from in Alberta and Saskatchewan and support Canada’s overall goal to reduce methane emissions).”

So, once we have established the baselines—this complex and detailed work continues—how do we evaluate and deploy the right technologies? The goal is not just reducing venting or making flaring more efficient (although this is crucially important), but where technically and economically feasible, converting methane into something that adds tangible value.

src's mobile emissions monitoring trailer and technology validation platform
SRC's ​​​​CeDER trailers can be deployed to test emissions reduction technologies in the field at full- or pre-commercial scales.

Accelerating industry adoption of GHG reduction technologies

Technology developers have emissions reduction technologies that help industry comply with emerging regulations. But often there’s a gap—sometimes called the Valley of Death—where potential new technologies fail because they can’t move through the research and development phase into commercialization. 

To help combat this, SRC created the Centre for the Demonstration of Emissions Reductions (CeDER) to help industry and technology developers test, demonstrate and validate technologies in real-world situations. This means technologies are adopted by industry faster—they’ve been demonstrated to work—moving us quickly towards reducing methane emissions. 

In addition, SRC has created a database of nearly 400 commercial and emerging GHG emissions reduction technologies developed by innovators. The database is a repository for information on technologies, processes and practices, and as a screening tool for various methane mitigation challenges.

It’s important that these emissions-related measurement, reduction, capture and conversion technologies are tested in real-world conditions to gain industry adoption. There’s no better proof that a technology works than seeing it function in the field, but it’s a big leap from lab to field. While we call it a “Centre,” we also offer a modular and mobile platform as part of the services offered. We perform a wide range of tests at industrial sites on diverse technology scenarios at full or pre-commercial scale. 

The momentum is growing for CeDER with industry players and technologies. Working in concert with key players, such as PTAC, CAPP and MELA, and with support from provincial regulators and private/public funding sources, CeDER is testing methane capture and conversion technologies (e.g., to power, micro-liquified natural gas, gas to liquids) in multiple provinces at operator field sites. 

It takes a village

We see CeDER as a fundamental part of a national network to solve the methane problem, working closely with key stakeholders in industry, government and technology towards that goal.

As the oil and gas industry moves increasingly toward testing emissions reduction and conversion technologies in the field, on real emissions streams, CeDER—in collaboration with others—will help independently test and validate those technologies. 

So, what’s the ultimate goal? Well, to reduce methane emissions in a feasible way that is sustainable over the longer term for industry, the environment and the world economy. Canada has an important role to play in this, especially in technology innovation. It’s an opportunity for us to lead the way and create benchmarks that other countries can use. 

By taking this opportunity, Canada’s key resource industries have a greater chance of remaining relevant and competitive far into in the 21st century. 

Learn more

SRC brings over 70 years’ experience and credibility as a trusted third party in evaluating ground-breaking technologies ahead of the desired-for and much-needed wider field deployment. Where merited, this includes both technical and economic evaluation on a wholly impartial basis, benefitting both operators (as they seek to deploy technologies that, besides delivering regulatory compliance, can potentially deliver for them a positive rate of return in using otherwise wasted or stranded assets) and the technology providers themselves. 

Through SRC and CeDER, operators and technology providers can shorten the commercialization cycle by obtaining vital independent and widely-trusted reporting from experts who are leaders in their fields.