Some US oil and gas producers are deploying methane control programs, with Exxon Mobil, the country’s biggest natural gas producer, in the lead.
Exxon Mobil has announced a program to lower emissions of methane, one of the most harmful greenhouse gases, from its US oil and gas production and pipelines. It will focus mainly on detecting and correcting leaks, and installing environmentally efficient equipment. “We need to minimize our impact on the environment,” said Sara Ortwein, President of XTO Energy, the Exxon Mobil subsidiary leading the project. “Focusing on emissions reductions – and here with methane – is one more step.” While several other large oil and gas producers in the US are following suit and taking steps to lower emissions, others are resisting.
Methane has many sources, notably cattle farms and landfills; however the energy sector, including oil and gas production and coal mining, is believed to be the biggest source. Methane is a primary component of natural gas, and is often emitted during production and transport. Greenhouse gases are defined as those that trap heat within the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. And methane “traps more than 80 times as much heat within the atmosphere as carbon dioxide over a 20-year period,” the New York Times reports.
America’s shale boom led to a massive surge in oil and gas production. While this has provided plenty of gas for the country’s domestic needs, with enough for export, it has come at a price in terms of environmental impact. Although cheap gas lowered dependence on coal, methane emissions from oil and gas have increased, and their effect on climate change may have been underestimated.
Cutting emissions from leaks is especially important. Over the next three years, XTO plans to phase out the gas-powered controls it uses to manage oil-field valves and pressure and flow systems, which regularly release methane. The company hopes to replace them with new controls, currently being tested, which use compressed air rather than gas. Additional measures to identify and stop leaks at production and transport facilities may include mounting leak-detection equipment on planes, and using satellites and drones.