Mitigating Methane Emissions: Digital Strategies for the Energy Industry

December 06, 2023

Earlier this week at COP28, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a final rule for oil and gas producers to detect and fix leaks that will reduce methane pollutants. The goal is to prevent 1.5B metric tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from entering the atmosphere.

The second most abundant anthropogenic GHG after CO2, methane has high global warming potential. Over its 12-year lifespan, it has 28 times the warming power of a pound of carbon dioxide. According to a study by the EPA, it makes up about 12 percent of GHG emissions in the United States and roughly 18 percent worldwide. This has made methane emissions an important target for climate action. According to the 2023 IEA Global Methane Tracker, “Oil and gas methane emissions represent one of the best near-term opportunities for climate action because the pathways for reducing them are well-known and cost-effective. Even if there was no value to the captured gas, almost all available abatement measures would be cost effective in the presence of an emissions price of only about 15 USD/tCO2-eq.”   

By prioritizing the abatement of methane emissions, we can make a significant impact on the world’s ability to reach net zero targets. Digital technology is already enabling oil and gas producers to mitigate GHG emissions by improving their operational efficiency. In fact, according to the IEA, around 40 percent of oil and gas emissions could be reduced at no net cost using existing technologies.

With the latest EPA rule, digitalization promises to have an even larger role in the energy industry’s decarbonization strategies going forward. Some of these strategies could include: 

  1. Improving transparency and visibility of emissions. AspenTech’s emissions management solution, AspenTech Operational Insights™, is giving asset -intensive organizations, including the energy industry, the ability to narrow in on high-emissions areas, or where difficult-to-spot leaks are occurring, and prioritize fixes accordingly. The solution guides smarter decision-making in support of sustainability goals and could also be used to provide detailed emission reports that will be needed for regulators, auditors, investors, or leadership.

  2. Acting on early and accurate breakdown warnings. Machine learning and AI fueled predictive and prescriptive maintenance, including AspenTech’s Asset Performance Management solutions, learn normal behavior patterns for pumps, compressor seals, rods, and other equipment, and use those insights to alert operators to abnormal behavior. Advanced notice of which equipment could fail gives oil and gas companies the option to replace the equipment, or plan a safe shutdown, and avoid accidental methane emissions.

  3. Installing new emissions control devices. For example, Vapor Recovery Units, which capture methane emissions from atmospheric pressure fixed roof storage tanks, allow for the reuse of gas onsite for electricity or installing plunger lifts to extract liquid instead of liquid uploading.

  4. Implementing leak detection and repair (LDAR). One common approach is the use of infrared cameras, which make methane leaks visible so action can quickly be taken to remediate them. LDAR can be applied across the supply chain to upstream activities, including well development, gathering, processing.

  5. Increasing investment in innovative technologies. Technology and innovation have always been abundant in the energy industry. This will be critically important to help the industry continue reducing methane emissions in the most cost-effective way possible, with things like simulations and capital cost management. Other innovation includes methane-reduction catalysts that use oxidation to reduce unburned emission from other hydrocarbons, deploying micro-turbines, mini-CNG, mini-GTL, or mini -LNG facilities, and simultaneously optimizing flare system networks and process design.

The EPA’s new ruling is just one of many recent Biden administration initiatives to support the energy industry in prioritizing decarbonization. As the world continues to prioritize solutions to curb climate change, we will see more and more digital tools help scale innovation and assist hard-to-abate industries with accelerating their GHG mitigation efforts.

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