Improving Our Understanding of Methane Emissions
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Improving Our Understanding of Methane Emissions

MethaneMethane emissions come from a range of sources and sectors of the economy that are unevenly dispersed across the landscape. Methane is emitted by natural sources as well as by human activities, such as from natural gas systems and agriculture. The cleaner burning characteristics of natural gas will enable it to play a critical role in the nation’s diverse energy future. The issue of fugitive emissions of methane during natural gas production has received attention as shale energy production in the United States has resulted in an increasing supply of abundant, low cost natural gas. While technology has made it possible for the industry to produce more natural gas, questions related to attribution and measurement have led to uncertainties in estimates of current and projected methane emissions. 


In 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released an analysis of methane emissions and trends in the United States. The study indicated that methane emissions decreased by almost 11 percent between 1990 and 2012. Methane emissions from agricultural activities were found to have increased, but emissions from sources associated with the exploration and production of natural gas decreased. During this same time period, natural gas production increased 40 percent.

Despite these decreasing methane emissions trends, our industry and Hess specifically are i
nvesting in efforts to improve methane data collection and measurement, to improve our  understanding of methane sources and trends and to enable more effective management of opportunities to reduce methane emissions.  

Hess, together with a number of other companies, has collaborated with Colorado State University (CSU) and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to study methane emissions associated with the natural gas industry’s gathering infrastructure and processing plants. This study is one of 16 studies sponsored by EDF and its industry partners to quantify natural gas emissions across the value chain. The CSU study, which was published in February 2015 in Environmental Science & Technology, is the largest and most comprehensive field study to date for the oil gathering and processing sector.


In this study, researchers found wide variations in the amount of methane being emitted at various sites – especially in the gathering sector. The study found that less than 1 percent of the methane that passed through natural gas gathering and processing facilities in the United States leaks. It also revealed that roughly one-third of gathering facilities account for 80 percent of methane emissions. The study went on to say that variations among similar facilities were being driven by differences in inlet and outlet pressure and abnormal process conditions. The research team is using the measurement data to develop an estimate of total methane emissions from all gathering and processing facilities in the country. Those results are expected to be published later in 2015. Hess is also collaborating with six other oil and gas companies, EDF and the Southwestern Research Institute in the Methane Sensor Challenge. This challenges technology developers and engineers to develop low cost methane monitors that can help the oil and gas industry better detect, and ultimately reduce, methane emissions.


In January 2015 the Obama Administration announced plans to cut methane emissions from oil and gas operations by 45 percent by 2025 from 2012 levels. While we view this goal as ambitious, the Administration is focused first on regulation of new and modified sources of emissions and has deferred direct regulation of existing sources of methane emissions in hopes that voluntary initiatives such as ONE Future, which is described below, will minimize the need for regulatory action to control existing sources.


ONE Future Coalition

Hess is a founding member of the ONE Future Coalition, which was established in late 2014. ONE Future is a coalition of companies from across the natural gas industry focused on identifying policy and technical solutions that yield continuous improvement in the management of methane emissions associated with the production, processing, transportation and distribution of natural gas.


ONE Future offers a performance-based, flexible approach to managing methane emissions that is expected to yield significant reductions in emissions. The goal is to voluntarily lower methane emissions to less than 1 percent of gross natural gas production across the value chain. ONE Future’s approach will be for each of the four industry sectors to aim for reduction targets proportional to their share of total emissions. As shown at right, emissions across the full natural gas value chain are averaging 1.31 percent, according to the EPA’s established methodology.


ONE Future, through the use of an external consultant, will review current methane emissions factors, in light of the recent EDF coordinated research studies, to determine whether those methodologies are representative and include all major sources.


This will allow ONE Future to establish and agree on an emissions protocol with the EPA. After a baseline is established, ONE Future will set sector targets for proportional reductions beyond current emissions rates.


Consideration will also be given to the safety, practicality and cost effectiveness of potential reductions and, if appropriate, they may place increased emphasis on specific processes and sectors. Each of ONE Future’s member companies seeks to provide maximum value to the consumer, and it is for that reason that our approach to reducing methane emissions is focused on identifying and addressing the most cost-effective emissions sources. To resolve potential conflicts, ONE Future has commissioned independent technical studies by leading researchers in the field that will determine specific emission reduction targets for each sector in order to achieve the overall goal of an industry-wide average target of 1 percent or less of gross production.


With improvements in measurement methodology and strategies to reduce methane emissions that will likely result from studies like the CSU study, we are confident that we can gain a better understanding of the methane issue. The company commits to work toward setting reasonable methane reduction targets over the next one to three year period, working in collaboration with the ONE Future coalition.


For the past 18 years, Hess has been a partner in the EPA’s Natural Gas Star program. This program created a partnership between the EPA and industry to identify and share best practices that yield reduced methane emissions. Since joining the Natural Gas Star Program in 1997, Hess has achieved cumulative methane emission reductions of 1.6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent (3,325,333 MCF). These results have been achieved through employing the Natural Gas Star methane reduction technologies and practices shown in the pie chart at the right.  The EPA is currently developing the next generation of Natural Gas Star through a program called  Enhanced Natural Gas Star, which Hess is helping to shape through ONE Future and the American Petroleum Institute.


While all of this collaborative activity is going on, Hess is continually looking for opportunities to reduce our methane footprint.