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Shell Launches Methane Detector Pilot at Alberta Shale Gas Site

A unit of Royal Dutch Shell plc said Wednesday it has launched a methane detector pilot at one of its shale natural gas sites near Rocky Mountain House in Alberta, part of a multi-stakeholder initiative to test next-generation technologies.

The pilot test at Rocky Mountain House in west-central Alberta is part of the Methane Detectors Challenge (MDC), a groundbreaking partnership begun in 2014 between the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), oil and gas companies, U.S. government agencies and technology developers. The aim is to enable operators to detect and fix methane leaks in real time.

"This pilot shows we're serious about reducing the methane emissions associated with natural gas production to support the overall climate benefit of this fuel," said Shell’s Greg Guidry, executive vice president of the unconventionals business unit. "Shell is looking at all aspects of its operations, from equipment to processes, to assess and identify emission reduction opportunities."

The oil and gas major follows global operating principles to develop its shales resources safely and responsibly, and it already has voluntary leak detection and repair programs across all of its shale gas sites.

Shell’s pilot test is using the Quanta3 sensing system, a technology that continuously monitors methane emissions, unlike handheld optical gas imaging (OGI) cameras. Quanta3 CEO Dirk Richter said the technology “provides operators with real-time information on the integrity and performance of their sites."

Rocky Mountain House is one of Shell’s emerging liquids-rich shale exploration areas. West-central Alberta was selected for the MDC pilot “as it offers the necessary infrastructure to adequately test the technology,” Shell noted. “Additionally, the cold weather conditions in Alberta provide a unique environment to test the system compared to previous pilots.”

Depending on the outcome of the pilot, next-generation detection technologies could be used to complement OGI cameras and other monitoring tools. These technologies also could have broader applications across the natural gas value chain.

"A new frontier of methane detection is coming, and Shell is helping to give us a glimpse of that future," said EDF Director Ben Ratner. "The ultimate test will be whether the industry scales new tools and approaches to minimize wasteful methane emissions in North America and across the world."

The MDC when it was launched initially attracted 20 companies and university research teams tasked with finding the best and most cost-efficient solutions for continuous methane detection. Five projects advanced in 2014 to laboratory and field testing.

Apache Corp., Hess Corp., Noble Energy Corp., Southwestern Energy Co. and BG Group, now owned by Shell, were EDF’s original collaborators. Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Shell also joined in 2014.

Partners in the utilities and oil and gas industries, including Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) and Statoil ASA “are moving to to purchase and deploy the top performing sensor systems across a range of geographies and facilities,” EDF noted. California’s PG&E installed innovative methane detection technology to continuously monitor leaks, reduce emissions and minimize waste. Statoil was the first producer to purchase and install solar-powered technology to continuously detect and reduce methane leaks.

In addition to the MDC, Shell has partnered in the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative to understand the gaps in methane data and detection technology to help companies and policymakers act more effectively.

Using recent methane emission estimates by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and gas production values by the Energy Information Administration, the methane emission rate is derived to be around 1.1% in the U.S. gas sector, with the production segment making up about 0.7%. Shell said emission rates from its production facilities “are estimated to be even lower. Effective leak detection is needed to maintain this low rate, and potentially even reduce it.”

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