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Big Oil Operators Pledge to Reduce Natural Gas Emissions from Operations

ExxonMobil Corp., BP plc and Royal Dutch Shell plc lead a list of eight top global oil and gas producers that committed Wednesday to further reducing methane emissions from their natural gas assets.

Also taking the pledge are Italy’s Eni SpA, Spain’s Repsol SA, Norway’s Statoil ASA, France’s Total SA and Germany’s Wintershall Holding GmbH. Eni, Repsol, Statoil and Total have extensive operations in North America’s onshore and the Gulf of Mexico.

The commitments are “part of wider efforts by the global energy industry to ensure that natural gas continues to play a critical role in helping meet future energy demand while addressing climate change,” the producers said.

“Since natural gas consists mainly of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, its role in the transition to a low-carbon future will be influenced by the extent to which methane emissions are reduced.”

Many studies have proven the importance of “quickly reducing methane emissions if we’re to meet growing energy demand and multiple environmental goals,” said United Nations (UN) executive Mark Radka, who heads the UN Environment’s Energy and Climate Branch.

Operators signing on to the new global agreement also said they would encourage others across the gas value chain -- from production to the final consumer -- to make similar commitments to reduce methane emissions. The guiding principles document stresses:

●       Continually reducing methane emissions;

●       Advancing strong performance across gas value chains;

●       Improving accuracy of methane emissions data;

●       Advocating sound policies and regulations on methane emissions; and

●       Increasing transparency.

“The guiding principles provide an excellent framework for doing so across the entire natural gas value chain, particularly if they’re linked to reporting on the emissions reductions achieved,” Radka said.

The principles were developed in collaboration with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF); the International Energy Agency (IEA); the International Gas Union; the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative; the Rocky Mountain Institute; the Sustainable Gas Institute; The Energy and Resources Institute, and UN Environment.

“Our analysis at IEA shows that credible action to minimize methane emissions is essential to the achievement of global climate goals, and to the outlook for natural gas,” said IEA’s Tim Gould, who heads the supply division for the watchdog’s World Energy Outlook.

“The commitment by companies to the guiding principles is a very important step,” Gould said. “We look forward to seeing the results of their implementation and wider application. The opportunity is considerable – implementing all of the cost-effective methane abatement measures worldwide would have the same effect on long-term climate change as closing all existing coal-fired power plants in China.”

Many producers have gone it alone or partnered with environmental groups and university researchers to achieve fewer emissions from gas operations.

ExxonMobil in September announced it would enhance a methane emissions reduction program for U.S. production and midstream facilities. The program prioritizes actions at sites operated by onshore-focused subsidiary XTO Energy Inc.

The Irving, TX-based supermajor, along with its peers and many top U.S.-based independents already collaborate in various methane emissions reduction studies, conducted by, among others, the University of Texas at Austin and EDF.

Producers also serve as technical advisers for the Stanford and EDF Mobile Monitoring Challenge. In addition, a methane measurement reconciliation study underway by the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory has led to producer partnerships.

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