Industry’s shift on methane must continue
Put aside any notion that oil and gas industry leaders might be growing less focused about methane. Whether motivated by economics or pressure from major investors, the overwhelming impression we’ve had at major industry gatherings this year has been just how deeply methane emissions have permeated the conversation.
At some moments, this year’s CERAWeek felt as much like a climate conference as an oil and gas convention.
That’s not to say the problem is solved, or that our work is anywhere near done. To the contrary, the shift is a reflection of how much more lies ahead now that the issue has been firmly established. What is clear, however, is the widespread recognition that how companies handle methane is a core business challenge that will help shape the gas industry’s prospects in a decarbonizing energy landscape.
Support for federal methane regulations
The most immediate action oil and gas companies in the United States can take today is helping to stop backward-thinking efforts to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) rules necessary to reduce the potent greenhouse gas.
There has been meaningful progress with several companies stepping up to support EPA’s current rules. In part due to increased investor pressure. Shell, ExxonMobil, BP and Equinor all publicly expressed support for federal methane regulations.
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In a recent Houston Chronicle editorial, for example, BP America Chairman and President Susan Dio says “the best way to help further reduce and ultimately eliminate methane emissions industry wide is through direct federal regulation of new and existing sources.” Shell even took it a step further, urging the Trump administration to tighten emission standards.
All of this is startling progress from where the methane dialogue was just a few short years ago, especially in the current U.S. political climate.
Technology = opportunity
Whether it is driven by rules and regulations or voluntary commitments – and we need both –there’s a new and rapidly evolving wave of technologies that make it easier, faster and cheaper than ever before for companies to monitor and manage methane emissions.
Digitalization is a key component of not only keeping a lid on emissions, but making the process safer and more cost-effective. Our recent work with Accenture suggests that digitization has the potential to unlock economic, social and environmental value worth as much as $1.5 trillion. Numbers like that are hard to ignore.
EDF is helping companies interested in implementing digital methane processes. As an example, BP and EDF recently announced a three-year collaboration that will test technological solutions to facilitate a new era of methane management.
The project also aims to identify opportunities for companies to expand their methane reduction efforts to their sprawling web of joint ventures and other non-operated assets – a step that if it were adopted industry-wide could expand the scope of emissions covered by emission reduction commitments to nearly half of all global oil and gas production.
Satellites turn data into action
The next leap in emission monitoring is taking us into space, where new satellite-based measurement tools are quickly coming online. New research, led by EDF scientists, demonstrates how satellites are already being used to effectively track trends in gas flaring related emissions. Another study using satellite data discovered operators in the Permian Basin burned off 4.4% of all gas produced in that region, nearly double the amount companies reported to state officials.
This is only a prelude to space-based measurement tools that are coming soon. In 2021, EDF affiliate MethaneSAT will launch a new satellite offering unprecedented capabilities to locate and accurately measure human-made methane emissions almost anywhere on Earth every few days. This compact orbital platform will map and assess problem areas that have previously been unknown or difficult to quantify.
MethaneSAT mission is designed specifically to transform data into action, by providing a crucial new tool for both companies and countries to locate methane problems and track their progress fixing them.
By making the data publicly available free of charge, MethaneSAT will also let outside stakeholders – investors, advocacy groups and ordinary citizens –see whether industry and regulators are living up to their responsibility to reduce emissions.
As the need to reduce emissions becomes a bigger core business challenge, investors and the public want to see oil and gas companies taking the actions that are effective and doable now. Otherwise, they won’t have any confidence the industry can take the full set of actions necessary to stay relevant during the long-term transition to a low-carbon future.