The level of environmental scrutiny the energy industry faces seems to increase with every passing year. Natural gas, which ten years ago was promoted as a ‘bridge fuel’ to a clean energy future, is now characterized by environmentalists as a dirty fossil fuel. Wind, solar and batteries appear to be the energy of choice. Emissions free nuclear power is even an unacceptable alternative. The US has made great strides in reducing emissions over the last two decades. However, for a subset of the US this is not enough. In this Energy Market Commentary, we will look at historical trends in methane emissions, the energy industries response and evolving technology to monitor fugitive methane emissions going forward.
As shown below, US emissions peaked in 2007 and have been in decline ever since. While the 2008 recession played some role in the decline that year, much of this reduction in emissions is due to structural changes. These changes include at the consumer level increased automobile CAFE standards, proliferation of compact fluorescent light bulbs and efficient Energy Star appliances. In electric generation, another driver has been broad coal-to-gas switching driven by low priced shale gas production since 2008. Recently, broader adoption of utility scale wind and solar have also helped.
According to some politicians, the world now faces a ‘climate emergency’ and fugitive methane emissions reductions are a target. As shown below, methane emissions come from many sources, however energy production and agriculture are the largest contributors. Note, as measured by the EPA, US methane emissions have gone down while US energy production has climbed higher since 2008, when unconventional production started.
There is some debate among industry, eNGOs, and academics about what the actual emission rates are as opposed to actual measurement. I'm curious to see how things pan out when the EDF methane sat launches, but keep in mind that many oil and gas producing regions have other sources of methane, some natural, and some enhanced by man.
Here in the bi-state Haynesville Basin, I am unaware of any operators that have programs to reduce fugitive emissions. dbob, are you aware of any? Those programs, publicized by a number of companies, are pretty low bars for serious GHG reduction targets. The time to prioritize natural gas through government regulation and incentives was about ten years ago. The Obama administration attempted to move in that direction with the Clean Power Plan. The push back by industry and partisans was substantial. Now, it may be too late. That ship has sailed. The market will decide the preferred energy sources and the day when there were few reasonable options other than natural gas are long gone. Now the life span of hydrocarbon-based energy will be decided by the pace of innovations in solar, wind and storage. That will take some years but the future may well be foretold by the adoption of EVs over the next five or six years. Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles will largely disappear from the roads of Europe by then.
Not all of these companies are participating in all programs, but the following is one:
Participants will implement initial monitoring at selected sites using instrument methods and technologies such as Method 21 or optical gas imaging (OGI) cameras to detect methane leaks.
Emissions Source: Company plan will outline criteria for site selection (e.g., percent production, number of sites, etc.)
OGI camera, Method 21, or other instrument/technology.
Phased in, initiated within 18 months with all participating sites covered within a maximum five year period.
Completed within 60 days unless delay of repair is required to wait until the next scheduled shutdown or pending part availability.
Program Reporting and Content:
The Environmental Partnership will report the number of sites monitored and number of leaks repaired on an annual basis.
Thanks, dbob. The measures to reduce natural gas fugitive emissions should be strict and mandatory for all companies and segments of the industry. And it shouldn't be a political football. Saving all those molecules benefits everyone from the mineral owner to the operating company to the planet.
And thanks for the link although there are a number of Haynesville operators missing from that list.
I wouldn't count on ICE vehicles being "gone" from Europe in short order, except in certain cities and markets where mandated by local or regional fiat. For all the calls of solar / renewables displacing fossil fuels in Europe, current stated figures for fuel allocation for electrical generation have fossil fuels and renewables swapping approximately 10% in ten years (Combustibles reduced from 60% to 50%; renewables rise from 15% to 25%). Further, the largest increase in the renewables sector in the last ten years of record ('07-'17) was in wind (+8.2%, from 3.2% to 11.4%). Solar increased "in the mix" from approximately 0.1% to 3.8%, with the remaining adjustments being relatively modest reductions in use of nuclear and marginal adjustments to the hydro component of renewables (currently 10.4%).
Much of the large wind buildout in Europe has been completed - there are relatively few additional projects on the board within the next ten years except for certain "megaprojects" which would effectively double the wind footprint. However, fully half of the planned wind farms are either not approved or planned contingent upon expected increased wholesale power costs.
In an environment where stable and independent natural gas pricing can be inexpensively sourced from elsewhere other than Russia, one would not generally expect continued subsidized power buildouts in the European wind sector. Further, if Europe were to significantly convert from ICE vehicles to electric, the power sector would have to expand its generation capacity in order to do so. Transportation represents fully 20% of energy consumption in Europe and 95%+ of that energy is supplied via fossil fuels currently, despite heavy taxation on the part of the individual end user - taxation on ICE motor fuels averages 60-80% of the total cost of retail (end-user) fuel. Even if "all" of the required generation gain were derived from renewable sources (which would be heavily dependent on solar / wind / storage systems - hydro is more or less constant-level, nuclear is *not* increasing under current scenarios), fossil fuels still contribute significantly to the mix, albeit more from "less-taxed" quarters (e.g., power companies and wholesale power providers).
Personally, I find it amazing that many people still hold solar and storage to be "clean" when there are significant (industrial-scale) amounts of toxic tailings and byproducts generated by mining, refining and assembling of solar and battery-storage components. Is it the fact that much of the initial capture and recovery of the raw materials and manufacture of finished products still occurs in largely unmonitored areas (e.g., China) that the impact of these processes are so easily swept under the rug by alternative energy proponents?
Dion, you are correct in regard to eastern Europe. I should have been more specific and said western Europe. I think my prediction is valid there as countries are mandating the end of sales for ICE vehicles early in the next decade. Yes, unless we chose to walk, there are certainly some potential for negative effects in any form of mechanized transportation. At this point, a trade off from vehicles that spew particle pollution to those that do not seems a rational reaction to the climate disaster currently underway.