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Digital Exclusive: Mitigating methane emissions: Digital strategies for the energy industry

B. BEBERNESS, Aspen Technology, Houston, Texas

Last week at COP28, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a final rule1 for oil and gas producers to detect and fix leaks that will reduce methane pollutants. The goal is to prevent 1.5 B metric t of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from entering the atmosphere. 

Methane, the second most abundant anthropogenic GHG after carbon dioxide (CO2),2 has high global warming potential. Over its 12-yr lifespan, it has 28 times the warming power of a pound of CO2. According to a study by the U.S. EPA, methane makes up approximately 12% of GHG emissions in the U.S. and roughly 18% worldwide3. This has made methane emissions an important target for climate action. According to the 2023 International Energy Agency’s (IEA’s) Global Methane Tracker, “Oil and gas methane emissions represent one of the best near-term opportunities for climate action because the pathways for reducing them are well-known and cost-effective. Even if there was no value to the captured gas, almost all available abatement measures would be cost effective in the presence of an emissions price of only about $15/tCO2-eq.”   

By prioritizing the abatement of methane emissions, industry can make a significant impact on the world’s ability to reach net-zero targets. Digital technologies are already enabling oil and gas producers to mitigate GHG emissions by improving their operational efficiency. In fact, according to the IEA, around 40% of oil and gas emissions could be reduced at no net cost using existing technologies.  

With the latest EPA rule, digitalization promises to have an even larger role in the energy industry’s decarbonization strategies going forward.  

Some of these strategies could include: 

  1. Improving transparency and visibility of emissions. The author’s company’s emissions management solutiona provides asset-intensive organizations, including the energy industry, the ability to narrow in on high-emissions areas, or where difficult-to-spot leaks are occurring, and prioritize fixes accordingly. The solution guides smarter decision-making in support of sustainability goals and could also be used to provide detailed emissions reports that will be needed for regulators, auditors, investors or leadership.  
  2. Acting on early and accurate breakdown warnings. Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) fueled predictive and prescriptive maintenance, including the author’s company’s Asset Performance Management solutions, learn normal behavior patterns for pumps, compressor seals, rods and other equipment, and use those insights to alert operators to abnormal behavior. Advanced notice of which equipment could fail provides oil and gas companies the option to replace the equipment, or plan a safe shutdown, and avoid accidental methane emissions. 
  3. Installing new emissions control devices. For example, vapor recovery units—which capture methane emissions from atmospheric pressure fixed-roof storage tanks—allow for the reuse of gas onsite for electricity or installing plunger lifts to extract liquid instead of liquid uploading. 
  4. Implementing leak detection and repair (LDAR). One common approach is the use of infrared cameras, which make methane leaks visible so action can quickly be taken to remediate them. LDAR can be applied across the supply chain to upstream activities, including well development, gathering and processing.
  5. Increasing investment in innovative technologies. Technology and innovation have always been abundant in the energy industry. This will be critically important to help the industry continue reducing methane emissions in the most cost-effective way possible, with things like simulations and capital cost management. Other innovation includes methane-reduction catalysts that use oxidation to reduce unburned emissions from other hydrocarbons, deploying micro-turbines, mini-compressed natural gas (CNG), mini-gas-to-liquid (GTL) or mini-LNG facilities, and simultaneously optimizing flare system networks and process design.

The U.S. EPA’s new ruling is just one of many recent U.S. President Biden administration’s initiatives to support the energy industry in prioritizing decarbonization. As the world continues to prioritize solutions to curb climate change, we will see more digital tools help scale innovation and assist hard-to-abate industries with accelerating their GHG mitigation efforts.  


a AspenTech Operational Insights™


1 U.S. EPA, “Biden-Harris administration finalizes standards to slash methane pollution, combat climate change, protect health and bolster American innovation,” December 3, 2023, online: https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/biden-harris-administration-finalizes-standards-slash-methane-pollution-combat-climate

2 U.S. EPA, “Global Methane Initiative: Importance of methane,” November 1, 2023, online: https://www.epa.gov/gmi/importance-methane#:~:text=Methane%20is%20the%20second%20most,trapping%20heat%20in%20the%20atmosphere

3 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “Climate change 2022: Summary for policymakers,” WMO, UNEP, 2022, online: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg3/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_WGIII_SPM.pdf

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