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Managing methane: has the answer been under our noses all along?

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Oilfield Technology,

The COP26 summit in Glasgow set an ambitious new target when it comes to limiting methane emissions in pursuit of climate change goals. How can oil & gas companies – which will ultimately play a significant role in making good on that commitment – help to achieve it? Catriona Penman and Oz Rodriguez of Lloyd’s Register Software outline how technology can keep the target within reach.

More than 100 participating countries at COP26 signed up to the Global Methane Pledge, by which they agree to take action to reduce methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030, against 2020 levels.

The focus on methane reflects its significant contribution to climate change: scientists say that over a 100-year period it is 28 - 34 times as warming as CO2, and influential political figures ranging from President Joe Biden to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen used the COP26 platform to stress it required urgent action.

Although the related costs and technical implications make it a challenging issue for oil and gas operators to address, reducing methane emissions is high on the industry agenda. The programme of leadership discussions at this year’s ADIPEC conference shown a light on the need for continued development and use of breakthrough technologies to improve sustainability, including reducing both methane and carbon emissions.

It posed the question: what new partnerships, business models and investments are required to create and effectively implement the right technologies? It’s reasonable to conclude that, against the backdrop of rising concerns about the impact of methane on the environment, oil and gas businesses are assessing how they can tap into technological advances to address the new emissions agenda. Because while the methane pledge reflected a country-level commitment, it will in the end be largely down to emitting businesses to deliver on it – but how might the use of existing technology aid in reaching their goal?

If the 2030 target is to be achieved, industry players will have to explore ways to accelerate the process, but it is a balancing act. According to Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, UAE Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology & ADNOC CEO, the world’s demand for oil and gas following the COVID-19 pandemic has increased to the point where it “will have to invest around US$600 billion every year until 2030 just to keep up with the anticipated demand.” So, we cannot expect to unplug the energy system of today and automatically switch to the energy system of tomorrow.

A pragmatic approach is a must, since according to research by the sustainability practice of consultancy McKinsey, oil and gas accounts for an estimated 20 - 25% of anthropogenic methane. If it’s primarily the responsibility of operators to take the tangible steps required to reduce emissions – not least fugitive emissions – they need to be empowered with that foundation stone of robust decision-making: good data.

The question does arise as to whether all operators are making the most of existing digital technology in the associated arenas of monitoring, reliability and maintenance to understand – and manage – their methane emissions-related performance. According to a paper published in 2020 in Environmental Research Letters, up to 85% of methane emissions in the oil and gas industry could be mitigated by 2030 using existing technology.

There’s a case to be made for putting various pieces of the jigsaw together to create a cohesive view. It’s a principle we’re already embracing at Lloyd’s Register Software, where we’ve recognised that our subsurface and topside digital technologies can form part and parcel of the same strategy.

Subsurface, our interactive petrophysics (IP) and interactive correlations (IC) tools can monitor anticipated methane production levels and when integrated that with geological understanding, will equip the user with the data required to shape and implement mitigation measures for potential corrosion risk and leaks at the wellbore or caprock.

Topside, meanwhile, we can apply our RiskSpectrum suite of software tools to deliver risk and reliability analysis, while our AllAssets performance management software can be used to ensure inspection and maintenance work is focused, where necessary, on countering potential fugitive emissions from valves and other critical pieces of infrastructure.

Using asset monitoring, reliability and integrity technologies has a secondary effect: certainly, they serve to help operators minimise production loss, avert unscheduled downtime and reduce risk, but in the context of methane emissions – and that 2030 target – they relate directly to the sustainability agenda.

Given the urgent need to address the prime causes of anthropogenic input to climate change, perhaps now is also the time to extend the spirit of information sharing – of front-line experiences and lessons learned – to this specific item on the net zero agenda. Certainly, an environment in which we can share ideas and knowledge – not least in terms of identifying gaps that can be quickly closed by technological advances – can only help our collective efforts as an industry to reach our emissions goals sooner.

Oz Rodriguez is Head of Product GTM Strategy, with Lloyd’s Register Software; Catriona Penman is a geologist and IC Product Manager with Lloyd’s Register Software.

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