How Oil and Gas Industry Uses Technology to Reduce Fugitive Methane Emission

Introduction

U.S oil and gas production has soared in the past decade thanks to the production boom in the shale regions and advancement in production technologies. In 2020, the U.S produced more oil and gas than any other country. A welcome trend that has brought about many benefits including jobs creation and reducing the country’s dependency on foreign oil imports.

Methane is the primary constituent of natural gas, a valuable commodity, but also a potent greenhouse gas

High production levels are causing high levels of indirect emissions-also known as fugitive emissions. Fugitive emissions are unintentional leakages or discharges caused by process venting, evaporation loss, accidents or equipment failures. The emissions come from a wide variety of sources during the production, processing and transportation of oil and natural gas.

Oil and gas companies are implementing programs to reduce methane emissions. Accurately and efficiently identifying sources of emissions enables faster responses and reduces emissions. And according to a 2019 assessment, three-quarters of today’s methane emission from the oil and gas industry can be controlled by deploying known technical fixes.

Sensors

Advances in detecting environmental and industrial gas have come a long way. Gone are days of using canaries to warn of high levels of carbon monoxide and methane present in mines. The oil and gas industry is implementing sensors and sophisticated monitoring technologies for detecting leakages.

There are two types of sensors:

  • Sampling sensors-These measure gases in the air directly. The sensor has to be close to the source of emission to detect it.
  • Standoff sensors- These are used to detect emissions from a distance.

These sensors can detect and quantify different gases at levels as low as parts per billion (ppb) and enable operators to quickly spot leaks from a safe distance. They play an important role in the efforts to reduce fugitive emissions.

Sensors can be connected to safety systems and can relay real-time readings and locations of leaks to control rooms.

Infrared Cameras

Optical Gas Imaging, (OGI), cameras are used in the oil and gas industry to locate leaks and emissions through the measure of infrared energy. They detect and measure a heat signature given off by fugitive gases. They convert the heat signature into an electronic image to be viewed on a digital display. OGIs allow users to see various industrial gases that would otherwise be invisible to the human eye. They appear as plumes of smoke in a video or image enabling users to see even very small leaks.

OGIs can be used as handheld devices, as strategically placed fixed mounts or onboard UAVs and fixed-wing planes.

Drones

Mounted with methane detection sensors, drones and unmanned aerial vehicles, (UAVs), are the newest technologies being used in detecting fugitive emissions. Operators can fly miles of pipelines, even in difficult terrains, and large industrial complexes to precisely pinpoint sources of emissions with relative ease. Drones are also used to detect leaks in portions of plants that would otherwise only be reachable by scaffolding. Using drones and UAVs not only keeps the operators safe from the potential dangers but also optimizes time and cost requirements for monitoring.

Planes

Unlike drones and UAVs, piloted planes have been used in surveying and monitoring pipelines and production regions for many years. Drones and UAVs have limited flight range. Their sizes also limit what sensors they can carry. Planes can be fitted with multiple sensors and are excellent for covering vast areas. The sensors and planes’ onboard GPS can record emission location and its intensity.

24/7 Monitoring

Many oil and gas companies deploy 24/7 monitoring measures across their infrastructure. These measures combine leak detection sensors and alert systems. Alert systems are directly connected to control rooms, enabling operators to remotely monitor their facilities.

Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition, (SCADA), is an example of remote control and monitoring systems used in the oil and gas industry. Once a leak is detected, the system can immediately signal the control room for immediate deployment of the repair crew. It also can close valves to minimize emissions.

Conclusion

Methane leaks are inherently counterproductive for the oil and gas industry. Each cubic foot leaked represents a lost commodity that would otherwise flow downstream to consumers. Excess emission also means millions of dollars paid in emission fees.

On top of economic incentives, the industry also realizes that plugging methane leaks presents an opportunity for mitigating its environmental impact. Fugitive emissions are contributing to air pollution, climate changes and increased risks of accidents. These are just some measures the industry is taking to ensure safe and responsible operations. The goal is to improve the health and safety of workers and surrounding communities.

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