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GHG Emissions: The growing concern from the oil and gas industry

Greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from oil and gas production continue to be a matter of importance to the oil and gas industry. According to the 2102 EPA Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program, the second leading producer of greenhouse gas emissions comes from oil and gas operations.

A new study published in the journal, Climactic Change, revealed that emission sources from oil and gas operations came from gas flaring as well as fugitive methane. This was usually the case at oil production sites where gas had been stranded. The study calculated that about 914 billion tonnes of CO2-equivalent were discovered in 90 international entities” after examining production records from the years between 1854 and 2010. These companies together created a total of 985 billion barrels (bbl) of crude oil and natural gas liquids (NGLs).

BP corroborated the findings in the Climactic Change study. They revealed that oil and natural gas companies generated greenhouse gases in nearly every facet of their work from the “finding, extracting and processing of hydrocarbon resources to the transforming and delivery of these resources to customers.” The company also described that these practices caused a significant amount of GHG emissions to come from the burning of fossil fuels for energy, the flaring and venting of gas and fugitive emissions, such as equipment leaks.

However, research conducted by the Environmental Assessment & Optimization Group at Stanford University found that GHG emissions from petroleum production vary depending on the methods used. The report revealed that oil production facilities could achieve low emissions if they do not depend on energy production methods that are too concentrated and put in place controls on “fugitive emissions sources.” On the other hand, crude oil production operations have a greater level of GHG emissions for each unit of energy produced if they use “energy-intensive” techniques.

GHG emissions and their affect on the environment

According to an expert for Environment and Climate Change at an oil major, who wished that he and his company remain anonymous, emissions from industrial process equipment and gas flares eventually release “criteria air pollutants”, which the EPA lists as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide, all have consequences on public health. He adds that CO2 from the burning of fuels and methane are both greenhouse gas that have an affect on the environment.

When it comes the type operations that are the major contributors to GHG emissions, onshore or offshore drilling and leaking natural gas. According to the expert both upstream and downstream operations give out emissions. Not enough emissions come from drilling a well, which releases an insignificant amount. He explains that in a refinery, there are several process heaters that have combustion emissions, such as CO2. In addition, the field of production could also haveengines that drive the production units that burn fuel and release CO2 emissions.

IPIECA practices and procedures towards decreasing GHG emissions

The International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association (IPIECA) and its members have taken action towards decreasing GHG emissions. The IPIECA is a global association that represents both the upstream and downstream oil and gas industry on important global environmental issues. According to Helen Murphy, Communications and Reporting Manager at the IPIECA revealed that the organization’s “members are currently taking action to limit GHG emissions from their operations and to help their customers to use their products more efficiently in a number of different ways.”

Some of the major approaches have included, using energy more efficiently, improving drilling and production techniques as well as investing in cogeneration facilities. They are also educating consumers on how to use petroleum products in an effective way, implementing current low carbon technologies and investing in new fuel technologies. She further emphasized that its members are “investing in cleaner fuels such as natural gas.”

However, the most essential changes that IPIECA members have made, according to Murphy, has involved reducing venting, flaring and fugitive emissions from natural gas networks as well as creating and applying “carbon capture and storage technology.” She also mentions that their members have also been working with research organizations, governments and other sectors to develop advanced ways of supplying energy in an ecologically sustainable way.

Regulations for oil and gas industry to reduce emissions

The methods that oil and natural gas companies are taking, according to the expert, include a broad range of approaches to cut down emissions from our own facilities, whether it involves the upstream (exploration & production), downstream (refining and marketing), or midstream (pipelines and shipping). He believes that the best approach “is to avoid emissions in the first place.” As a result, energy efficiency is always the most important and usually the cost-effective way to decrease emissions. The expert emphasized that what companies do not burn or the energy they do not use in a process could inevitably lead to no emissions whatsoever.

Many of the oil and gas companies worldwide, describes the expert, have “comprehensive best practices to monitor for and fix, as soon as possible, fugitive emissions of methane or other process emissions.” Now, there are many nations where regulations govern these fugitive emissions, by creating monitoring and repair requirements.

The expert added that, various oil and gas companies in some countries have voluntarily reduced the flaring of natural gas. In the past, some of these countries did not have the necessary infrastructure or the requirements to use natural gas that also organically came with oil production. As a result, he said, companies were forced to flare that gas in order to produce oil. These countries now require a reduction in this flaring as well, while many in the industry have done this voluntarily, even prior to any regulations.

Future estimations for the global decrease of GHG emissions

In 2013, a study released by the American Petroleum Institute, which based its findings on Energy Information Administration (EIA) data, revealed that energy production was up and greenhouse gas emissions such as CO2, were falling. However, there are still challenges yet to be faced in decreasing emissions worldwide.

Energy consumption in the United States, according to EIA data, is set to increase approximately 10 percent from now until 2040. Fossil fuels are estimated to make up about 78 percent of the global primary energy demand in 2040. The EIA also projected that in order to meet the increase in demand for energy, crude oil and natural gas would continue to dominate the U.S. energy sector at least over the next several decades.

As far as worldwide forecasts, the EIA reported that “global energy consumption is projected to rise by approximately 56 percent over the 2010 to 2040 period, a roughly 1.9 percent annual increase, led by developing countries.” Such nations include mainly China and India, who have a growing population and business sector that will require greater energy usage.

Based on these estimates, the EIA concluded that growing energy demand emphasized the need for “lower GHG emitting technologies” along with the formation of “efficient technology transfer programs” to emerging nations.

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