As the primary component of the colorless, odorless, and tasteless mixture of hydrocarbon gases referred to as natural gas, methane is an economically valuable product. Methane is also a particularly potent greenhouse gas.
Research has shown that methane can leak into the atmosphere during nearly every phase of the production and transportation of natural gas and oil. Other research has asserted that taken together these emissions might reduce the comparative climate advantage of using natural gas as a fuel for electricity generation.
Yet, preventing leaks and capturing methane emissions can be an economic opportunity. Many operators have already implemented management practices to reduce leaks and capture methane emissions.
Policy action on methane is underway on the federal level at EPA and at least one state, Colorado, has already taken action to require energy companies to routinely check their oil and natural gas wells — both new and existing — statewide and fix equipment found to be leaking - so called Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) rules.
Key observations regarding methane from our on-going work:
Conversation has largely shifted from whether there is a need to reduce methane emissions, to how to how best to reduce them.
The oil and gas industry is among the largest industrial sources of methane emissions in the U.S. and methane leakage can call into question the net impact of natural gas on the climate.
Rigorous maintenance and inspection to reduce leaks of methane is a logical business priority and economic opportunity for the oil and natural gas industry.
Methane leak detection and repair programs can be very cost-effective and extending regulatory requirements beyond new natural gas wells, to control emissions from all existing and co-producing oil and gas wells can enable significant methane reductions.
Studies to identify the range of leak rates for specific components or technologies used along the entire natural gas supply chain can help determine where the most methane emission reductions can be achieved subject to economic and technical feasibility.