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Mitigating methane:  nobody’s perfect (but we’re working on it)

Menelaos (Mel) Ydreos, IGU

by Menelaos (Mel) Ydreos, Executive Director, Public Affairs, International Gas Union (IGU)

One of the most memorable lines in film is from  the comedy, Some Like It Hot.  It comes at the very end when Jack Lemmon – in surprisingly convincing drag – confesses to ardent millionaire suitor Joe E. Brown that he is, in fact a man.

“Well, nobody’s perfect,” is the reply.

Much the same can be said for all energy sources and for natural gas in relation to methane emissions.  But in contrast to the film, those are not our final words.  Far from it.  We’re working on the challenge.

First a bit of background:  Cleaner-burning natural gas plays an important role in improving air quality.  As such, it is a key resource in the transition to a cleaner and lower-carbon economy.  A natural gas combined cycle power plant produces about half the greenhouse gas emissions than coal and about 90% fewer mercury and sulfur dioxide emissions.  What’s more, the flexibility and reliability of natural gas in power generation make it the ideal complement to intermittent renewables such as wind and solar for those times when they cannot generate electricity.

Only a balanced energy future can meet the world’s growing energy needs. Find out more 

One of the challenges is what’s called the ‘fugitive’ – meaning inadvertent — emission of methane associated with the extraction and delivery of natural gas to end use. Methane is the second most important greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide.

An estimated 40% of total methane emissions come from biogenic (natural) sources, such as wetlands, wildlife and seepage from the earth’s crust. The other 60% of methane emissions are the result of human activity, including agriculture.

Determining precisely how much emissions are related to which human activity is still an inexact science.  There are vast gaps in data and competing methodologies.  That’s why, there is difficulty in reaching consensus on the specific quantity of the natural gas sector’s contribution to methane emissions overall.  Combined, the oil and gas industry contribute roughly a quarter of the world’s manmade methane emissions. Compared with total methane emissions the share of methane emissions from the gas sector is less than 10%.

But, we recognize that’s still too much.

Which is why our industry is working to:

  • Improve confidence in the accuracy of measurement, quantification, and reporting of methane emissions by determining the precise sources of related methane emissions related to exploration, production and delivery activities
  • Encourage scientific research into the sources of methane emissions and understanding of methane in the environment to better determine the scale of these emissions with greater precision and consistency
  • Encourage systematic reduction of methane emissions through operations management, including the sharing of the most effective approaches within and across the value chain
  • Promote the rapid advance, development, and commercial deployment of new cost-effective methane detection, measurement, and reduction technologies

We’ve already achieved some success.

In the US, the Environment Agency’s Natural Gas Star Program (STAR) has reduced methane emissions by more than one trillion cubic feet.  While US gas production has risen by 50% in 25 years, associated methane emissions have dropped by 18% during the same period.  Many IGU members are active in STAR.

Another encouraging development comes from Russia-based Gazprom, which holds the world’s largest natural gas reserves and transmission system.  The company has reduced its methane emissions by 29.5 % during last 25 years and is now working to bring them down even more.

To do this, Gazprom has largely concentrated on venting, which is the biggest source of methane emissions at natural gas transmission facilities.  Venting is primarily a safety measure that releases gas into the atmosphere before repairing .  Most venting can be avoided through improved dispatch management system and innovations’ implementation, which is why Gazprom’s methane reduction program concentrates on staff engagement.

In 2011, Gazprom started an employee bonus incentive programme with the combined aim of emissions abatement and energy savings.  It’s now paying off for employees, the company and the planet.

As Gazprom knows, methane emissions abatement is costly.  Some of those costs will be absorbed through realising the commercial value of methane, which in itself is a clean-burning source of energy.  As for the rest:  it’s worth it to perfect natural gas as an even better choice of fuel than ever for the world’s lower-carbon future.

For more details on what our industry is doing, download our Methane emissions challenge from www. www.igu.org.


About Menelaos Ydreos

Menelaos (Mel) Ydreos is Chairman, Coordination Committee of the International Gas Union for its 2015-2018 triennium as the United States, with leadership from the American Gas Association, prepares to host the 2018 World Gas Conference in Washington, DC. Mel  also serves at the IGU’s Executive Director, Public Affairs.

IGU’s mission is to advocate for natural gas as an integral part of a sustainable global energy system, and to promote the political, technical and economic progress of the gas industry.

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