Colorado, California and Mexico take top honours for efforts to reduce methane emissions

The inaugural Oil and Gas Methane Awards were presented on Wednesday. Image: Andrew Hiorth/MPSG

Colorado, California and Mexico were recognized for actions taken to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector at the inaugural Oil and Gas Methane Leadership Awards presented in Toronto Wednesday.

At a ceremony coinciding with the Global Methane Forum, the Center for Clean Air Policy, Clean Air Task Force, Environmental Defence Canada, Environmental Defense Fund and the Pembina Institute recognized four leaders in methane reduction. Oregon-based FLIR took the Technology Innovation award for its methane sensing technology.

Subnational governments such as Colorado and California play a critical role in reducing methane emissions either by filling gaps in federal regulations or by implementing policies designed to address regional specific issues while still meeting federal environmental outcomes, said the Calgary-based Pembina Institute.

Colorado was recognized for developing leading methane emissions through a collaborative process with industry and environmental groups, an approach that was later copied by other states including California.

Colorado has been a pioneer in reducing methane emissions from oil and gas for more than 10 years, starting with early regulations in Denver-Front Range that serves as the model for the U.S. EPA’s 2012 standards for new wells and compressor stations nationwide.

In 2014, working with industry and environmental groups, Colorado was the first state to develop and implement regulations directly addressing methane emissions, including the first rule requiring leak detection and repair from new and existing sites. This too served as a model for the package of standards that U.S. EPA and the U.S. Dept. of Interior put forth for new sites and certain existing sites in 2016.

These standards have served as powerful examples for other jurisdictions – demonstrating that not only can regulations requiring these technologies reduce methane emissions, but also that they are highly feasible and cost-effective, noted Pembina. Under the series of standards issued by Colorado, operators have adopted a range of technologies to reduce emissions.

Last fall, Colorado strengthened leak detection and other standards in the Denver-Front Range area, and currently the state is convening industry, environmental groups and other stakeholders to find feasible ways to further reduce emissions.

California, the fourth-highest petroleum-producing state in the U.S., put in place standards that will significantly cut methane emissions from new and legacy sites. The standards create an ambitious example for other jurisdictions as they move forward to cost-effectively reduce methane emissions by requiring industry to use feasible, proven technologies that keep more natural gas in the system, Pembina said.

California also expanded its effective methane regulations to gas distribution and storage facilities – a first of its kind. Gas utilities are now required to develop and implement plans to control gas leaks and venting. By using new technology and business practices to find, fix and prevent leakage and intentional venting, utilities are expected to achieve a 40-45 per cent reduction in emissions while also making their systems safer and more resilient. The state is now looking at ways to reduce methane from agriculture and landfills.

Emerging leader

Mexico, while still developing regulations, was recognized as an Emerging Leader for its commitment to reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40-45 per cent by 2025 and the consequent work in developing a sector-wide regulation covering methane emissions across the supply chain.

When Mexico amended its constitution to grant private and international companies access to its energy resources in 2013, it took steps to reduce emissions from both the existing oil and gas sector and any new entrants. It is one of only a few countries to include methane emissions from the oil and gas sector in its commitments to global climate accords and the only country to include black carbon.

Technology innovation

In the category of Technology Innovation, imaging company FLIR was selected for its innovative sensing solutions including cost effective hand held cameras that can be used by industry to identify and stop fugitive emissions.

The company’s infrared cameras allow field personnel to visualize and geotag fugitive methane emissions in a manner that is compliant with the U.S. EPA’s OOOOA methane rule. They allow companies to survey oil and gas facilities up to nine times faster than with traditional methods. Researchers, governments and ENGOs have used the technology to identify the source and magnitude of emissions and inform policy development.

“There is growing momentum from national governments, subnational governments, and industry to reduce methane emissions as a way to address greenhouse gas emissions,” Duncan Kenyon, responsible fossil fuels director at the Pembina Institute, said in a statement.

“With the final publication of Canadian federal regulations expected soon – and provincial regulations to follow – Canadian jurisdictions have the opportunity to become global leaders on methane, and help their industry compete in a low-carbon world. We look forward to assessing these regulations to determine whether Canada's 40-45 per cent target will be met. These actions are critical as the international community strives to meet aggressive goals to limit global temperature increases to well below 2 degrees C,” Kenyon said.