Why it’s going to be hard to push the envelope on methane emissions reductions

Image: Alberta Energy Regulator

After implementing Directive 060, Upstream Petroleum Industry Flaring, Incinerating, and Venting in 2002, Alberta became a world leader in conserving "associated" gas, now conserving 94-97 per cent of volumes.

Canadian and U.S. leaders recently committed to reduce methane emissions by 40-45 per cent from the oil and gas sector by 2025. The industry is looking to new technologies and new frameworks to manage the remaining three to four percent not currently conserved.

“That last three per cent of gas [is] very small volumes that are distributed over large areas, so it becomes a very complex problem,” Gerald Palanca, manager, regulatory effectiveness at the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) told a speaker series event last week called Innovate Straight: Methane Emission Reduction.

The event was hosted by Calgary Economic Development and Kinetica Ventures, an energy industry technology accelerator.

“That gas is not going to be economic to conserve, so the landscape is changing. We have a suite of directives that potentially could change moving forward to address the methane policy.”

Palanca says the AER won’t be surprising industry with any new process.

“We don’t have a draft directive behind the scenes that we are going to impose on industry. The AER is actually proceeding with this regulatory development through a similar multi-stakeholder engagement process [as that used to develop Directive 060 ], and so these solutions are going to be tabled at stakeholder advisory and technical committees. We have some time to develop a custom Alberta-based solution to the methane policy.”

Representatives from producers Encana and Husky Energy said the search for new technologies to meet the new objective is well underway, but more work is needed.

“We have been very active in exploring the options for abatement technologies for methane and we are piloting these technologies,” said Nadia Monaghan, manager, environmental policy at Encana. “Our two areas of focus have been on venting—pneumatics, controllers and pumps as well—and then our fugitives, our leak detection and repair programs.”

Husky has a somewhat different production profile, with a large portion of its production tied up in primary heavy oil production where it has a lot of associated gas, said Matt Beck, the company’s sustainability and innovation co-ordinator. “The vast majority of our methane emissions profile is from that associated gas venting…We have been working with [Kinetica Ventures] and other partners to look at technologies to solve that challenge and it’s a big one. There are geographic challenges in that a lot of those batteries are far away from existing infrastructure, so traditional gas conservation solutions aren’t necessarily in the money.”