The oil and gas industry is under pressure to demonstrate that the methane (CH4) leaks from gas wells, transportation and processing facilities are low – in order to show that electricity from gas generation is indeed better in global warming terms than electricity from coal.
Environmental groups have been claiming that methane leaks are so big it is scarcely better.
Measuring methane emissions from an entire facility is very hard because it involves either finding, assessing every leak (including guessing when the leak started), or somehow analysing methane in the air above the whole facility by satellite or laser (which also leads to more questions), the physics of which is to say the least tricky.
At least for the Majors and mini-Majors, reporting of GHG (CO2 and CH4) emissions has improved; there is a more consistent style and approach. However, whereas carbon dioxide (CO2) emission numbers can be calculated with a degree of reliability – we can estimate how much CO2 a turbine produces from a certain input of fuel, for example – as could be deduced from the paragraph above, it is not clear that reported CH4 emission numbers are as reliable.
There is work to be done and the task proves a great match for the oil and gas geophysicist’s skillset, including a physicist’s understanding of how the various sensors work and what they tell you (sniffer, ultrasonic, gas imaging, different types of laser), plus the ability to put diverse data together to create a facility-wide picture using geographical positioning and data management techniques.
And then, filling in the data gaps with sensible estimates.
PetroMall has put a short report together looking at the different technologies for managing and reducing methane emissions in the oil and gas industry – including sniffers / gas molecule detectors, optical gas imaging and lasers. You can download it here.