Drilling responsibly: lower emissions, lower cost

Neil Flemming, managing director of AIE, says operators should minimise carbon and methane emissions for the environment, and for their bottom line

Neil Flemming, managing director of AIE
Neil Flemming, managing director of AIE

Through its operations, the energy industry releases carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane, two of the most potent greenhouse gases. With increased public and governmental pressure on the energy industry to reduce emissions, a variety of technological solutions have been developed to make operations more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

These can be integrated in the design phase or later, in existing facilities. Some highly sought after solutions include energy optimisation, CO2 emissions reduction and methane emissions detection and reduction. With growing use of natural gas, methane emissions are a particularly important issue. Natural gas is regarded as the fuel of the future due to methane’s high energy content and relatively low CO2 emissions when burnt, compared to coal or heavy crude oil.

Energy optimisation is usually performed during the facility design phase to reduce energy consumption and operational expenditure while maintaining the required production rates. However, the emergence of newer technology and engineering solutions over time leave older plants with multiple areas of improvement in terms of energy efficiency. Given this, plants should be audited frequently and a comparison must be made with similar plants around the world to determine whether energy use at the facility is as efficient as possible.

CO2 emissions can be categorised into two types: direct emissions produced by the facility itself and indirect emissions that rise from imported energy produced outside of the facility. Many techniques have been developed to reduce the emission of this gas within industries that range from carbon sequestration, such as capturing CO2 in subsurface reservoirs, to a transition to green technology. Energy optimisation is also a technique that can be used to reduce CO2 emissions, while continually measuring and tracking CO2 emissions is key to understanding a facility’s environmental impact.

The world has an interest in today’s methane emissions. Methane has higher global warming potential than CO2–a ton of methane will absorb thirty-four times more thermal energy than a ton of CO2 over a 100-year period, making it a key emission to tackle in relation to climate change. It is estimated that methane represents up to 20% of global man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Oil and gas facilities are responsible for about 30% of the world’s methane emissions, which are expected to reach 125 BCF by 2020.

Not only are these emissions alarming in terms of the amount released, but methane leaks cost the oil and gas industry approximately $30bn per year in lost revenue. Methane leaks in the oil and gas industry have been recognised and led to the formation of groups that aim to reduce methane emissions.

Such groups include the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI), which is a CEO-led group representing 1/3 of global oil and gas production. They aim to reduce methane intensity from upstream oil and gas operations by more than 20%. In parallel there is the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership (OGMP) which is part of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC).

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