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Southwestern Energy Joins IOCs to Reduce Methane Emissions

Houston-based independent Southwestern Energy Co., which only develops natural gas in North America, is one of the initial partners in a multinational coalition of producers that Tuesday committed to slash methane emissions as part of a strategy to tackle climate change by the United Nations (UN).

The Oil and Gas Methane Partnership was announced by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the largest-ever summit of world leaders on climate change in New York City. Governments that signed on to reduce methane emissions were led by the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Mexico, Norway, Nigeria and Russia.

The public-private initiative of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition provides involved companies with a systematic, cost-effective approach for reducing their methane emissions and for credibly demonstrating to stakeholders the impacts of their actions.

In addition to Southwestern, initial industry partners are Italy's Eni SpA, Mexico's Petroleos Mexicanos, Norway's Statoil SA, UK's BG Group and Thailand's PTT. No specific methane reduction targets were set, nor were there goals set for the near term by the producers.

"We want...to get more companies internationally that recognize that there are cost effective ways to reduce methane emissions in the upstream sector," said Southwestern Executive Vice President Mark Boling.

The number of participants is small, but the program is expected to expand. A few of the Big Oil majors and super independents could have a huge impact on methane leaks with little cost, according to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), which helped lead the UN program. EDF has been working with several U.S. producers to work on next-generation technology solutions to reduce methane emissions (see Daily GPI, Aug. 21).

The United States separately is working on a methane strategy for the domestic oil and gas sector, but it is unrelated to the UN news. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this fall is set to release a strategy to deal with methane emissions from natural gas and oil pipelines, along with wells, which may include both regulatory approaches and recommended voluntary steps, Administrator Gina McCarthy said earlier this month (see Daily GPI, Sept. 4).

EPA earlier this year released for public review five technical papers on the sources of methane and volatile organic compound emissions in the oil and natural gas industry (see Daily GPI,April 15). Feedback the agency received "has been very significant," McCarthy said. "It has been instrumental in letting us think through where the opportunities and the challenges lie."

The UN said "significant" action is needed to reduce methane emissions within the oil and gas sector because it is responsible for more than 20% of global methane emissions, second only to the agriculture sector. Solid waste landfills are the third-largest human-caused source of methane, making up about 11% of estimated global methane emissions.

The new UN partnership strategy also seeks, among other things, to reduce pollutants from municipal solid waste. More than 25 cities committed to carry out quantifiable plans of action to cut pollutants by 2020, with the network expected to expand to 50 cities in 2015, 150 by 2020, with an eventual goal of 1,000 cities.

The UN estimates that the transportation sector contributes roughly 22% of global greenhouse gas emissions and about 19% of black carbon (soot) emissions. The partnership seeks to slash emissions in the transport sector with "green" freight programs in key countries and regions, particularly in developing economies where freight growth is projected to expand rapidly.

"These announcements show how governments, corporations and civil society can work together to reduce emissions," UN’s Ban said.

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