Thought Leadership Provided by ConocoPhillips
Delivering reliable and affordable energy to the world while also operating in a sustainable manner that addresses vital social and environmental issues, including climate change, is crucial. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by implementing new processes and enhanced technology can lead to substantial improvements. Industrywide fugitive methane emissions is estimated by the International Energy Agency at 1.7 percent of natural gas production. This leakage reduces operational efficiency through loss of marketable resources, while adding to the atmospheric methane that poses a known climate risk.
Since developing its Climate Change Position in 2003, ConocoPhillips has transparently reported its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and manage climate-related risk. More recently, ConocoPhillips has set a long-term target of voluntarily reducing its greenhouse gas emissions intensity by 2030. Progress in detection and mitigation of fugitive methane emissions will be key to meeting that goal.
The process begins with audio-visual-olfactory (AVO) inspections in which facility operators employ their natural senses of sight, sound and smell to identify any leaks or other issues during periodic inspection rounds.
If a problem is detected, formal leak detection and repair (LDAR) work practices are used to pinpoint and quickly repair leaking components, which could include pipeline valves and connectors, natural gas compressors, pumps, storage tanks and other equipment.
With new projects, where possible, ConocoPhillips utilizes “green” completions designed to prevent leakage from well casings and other equipment. Its efforts extend throughout development and may include such steps as installing automated flare monitoring systems to manage operational emissions.
At new or modified sites with high-rate producing wells or stand-alone compressor stations, additional periodic voluntary monitoring surveys are conducted with forward-looking infrared cameras. Operators scan potential leak sources and capture real-time images of any escaping gases or liquids. Follow-up surveys are conducted at least annually.
Following leak detection, procedures require prompt remedial action, with many leaks repaired the same day or within a few days. If additional time is needed, repairs are scheduled through formal maintenance tracking, ensuring timely mitigation. Completed repairs are inspected to verify they are successful. If analysis reveals developing trends of systematic equipment problems, engineered solutions and/or operational changes are implemented.
These processes have yielded a number of successes. During 2018 methane emissions from operations were reduced by 0.3 million tons of CO₂-equivalent. Key factors included utilization of an improved inventory of pneumatic devices, a decrease in equipment due to dispositions, replacement of pneumatic devices with electric solar pumps, and a change in the Australian calculation methodology for methane flaring. These reductions more than offset the addition of sources not included previously.
Further advancing the technology frontier, ConocoPhillips in 2019 began testing airborne drones equipped with onboard gas analyzers and meteorological sensors. While circling individual well sites, the drones transmit data that is then fed into sophisticated algorithms that quantify atmospheric methane present. The drones can precisely identify leak sources to within a few meters distance, compared to the more than 500-meter range achievable through use of manned aircraft to detect leaks.
ConocoPhillips suggests the most effective method to broadly reduce emissions of methane and other greenhouse gases is through the government implementation of well-designed pricing mechanisms on carbon emissions. Absent such pricing, the company supports direct, well-formulated government regulation of fugitive methane emissions from oil and natural gas production. Such regulation should encourage early adopters and voluntary efforts by oil and gas producers and incorporate cost-effective technological innovations.
With these mitigation milestones in its past and new achievements targeted for the future, ConocoPhillips continues to evaluate emerging emissions mitigation technologies and urges effective voluntary mitigation efforts on the part of industry and responsible regulation on the part of government.