A 15-year Canadian research, product development and field testing campaign has made available proven technology capable of reducing methane emissions by more than 45%, according to the oil and gas industry agency leading the environmental effort.

“Methane is the key to creating a clean Canadian oil and gas brand,” Petroleum Technology Alliance Canada (PTAC) stated in the Methane Detection and Mitigation Initiatives Report, a  35-page summary of leak detection and mitigation initiatives that it spearheaded.

The Canadian Energy Research Institute has estimated a C$700 million ($542 million)-plus cost for oil and gas producers to hit the country’s methane emission targets.

PTAC said that research groups of industry and government experts collected “a tsunami of methane emissions data” with mobile remote sensors using lasers and spectrometers mounted on light aircraft, drones, and ground vehicles.

To use the information for field operations guidance and devising cleanup methods, the agency formed a methane emission reduction network, or MERN – an industry cleanup cooperative.

As an outdoor laboratory and field proving ground, PTAC crews used a 2,500-square-kilometer (965-square-mile) area of central Alberta studded with production sites, pipelines, and processing plants.

MERN set out to create and prove technology capable of making a 45% methane emissions cut – and to accomplish the feat economically. The cost target was C$5.00 ($4.00) for a methane emission volume equivalent to a ton of carbon dioxide (CO2).

The resulting package put more than 40 technologies on the industrial market.

Innovations include capturing and using methane leaks for field equipment fuel and power generation, replacing natural gas with compressed air in pneumatic hardware, new electric devices, improved pumps, and low-carbon emissions combustion.

GHG reductions achieved by methane leak control exceed gains from tackling only CO2 emissions by a wide margin, said PTAC. The agency cited an international environmental measurement known as GWP, short for global warming potential. The yardstick rates a ton of methane emissions as equal to 28-36 tons of CO2 per century and 84-87 tons over a 20-year period. 

A Canadian federal agency recently awarded a grant to Toronto-based Validere Technologies to scale up a carbon and methane emission tracking venture. The top elected officials of Canada, Mexico, and the United States have also pledged to collaborate on a “North American strategy” to combat methane and black carbon.

What A Bargain?

Taking the GHG potency standard into account makes methane reduction a bargain compared to carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) projects emerging in high emissions sectors such as the Alberta oil sands, noted PTAC.

“Methane is the fastest, most cost-effective approach,” PTAC said. “The cost of CCS in reducing CO2 starts at C$50 ($40) per ton and can increase to over C$170 ($136) per ton.”

In contrast, PTAC pointed out that methane “starts at a negative cost and increases for many technologies to less than C$10 ($8.00) per ton of CO2 equivalent. Unlike CO2, methane has commercial value; we can sell methane.”

PTAC said that its methane emissions reduction campaign includes helping small to medium-sized technology firms achieve commercial success – a step that industry veterans call crossing the business “valley of death.”

With financial support from provincial and federal government agencies, PTAC has launched two industry groups that cover 75% of GHG control hardware and installation costs.

The PTAC report states that progress toward market acceptance is underway, with 101 clean-up equipment installations credited with 90,000 tons of annual methane emission reductions.

“It has been estimated that the upside potential in mass deployment of the identified technologies is at least 5,000 site electrifications, 5,000 pump optimizations, 5,000 instrument air compressors, 10,000 smart chemical pumps, 10,000 electric chemical pumps, and 500 compressor engines installed in oil and gas facilities in Canada,” noted PTAC.

The methane emissions reduction package stands out as a potential export addition to the Canadian industry, added PTAC.

The report called methane “the catalyst where traditional oil and gas and leading edge clean-tech meet. It has the potential to forever change how we do business by helping small- and medium-sized clean-tech companies prosper nationally and internationally.”