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Posts Tagged ‘methane

How Industry is Constraining Canadian Climate Action on Methane

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methane

Flares burn off excess methane at oil and gas refineries, landfills, and other industrial plants. Flares are used to control release of methane into the atmosphere but recovery options are also available that capture methane for use as fuel. source: http://www.pnnl.gov/

This is a guest post by John Jeglum. He is a retired peatland scientist who worked at the Great Lakes Forestry Centre, Natural Resources Canada, Sault Ste. Marie, ON, until 1994, and then at the Swedish University of Agricultural Science, Department of Forest Ecology and Management. He retired from Sweden in 2005, and returned to BC, first in Victoria, now in Duncan.

Much of the material in this post comes from a webinar run by the Climate Action Network in May of this year. It was originally sent to Fraser Voices as an email that included attachments. When these came from internet sources, I have substituted links.


 

You will recall the recent decision by the federal government to delay the institution of new procedures and regulations to reduce methane emissions in fracked natural gas and oil operations by 2 to 3 years. Part of this delay was owing to objections by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) to high extra costs for methane reductions (see Oilpatch accused of using ‘myth’ to delay Canada’s Climate Action  Carl Meyer 2017), and part owing to the new Trump administration, especially with new EPA head Scott Pruitt, which may delay the application of procedures and regulations in the USA.

Recently (18 May 2017), the Climate Action Network sponsored a webinar “How industry is constraining Canadian Climate Action on Methane.” Attached are three powerpoint presentations, and two sets of notes taken from oral presentations. The presenters are five knowledgeable persons with first hand information about the progress the industry/government’s program of constraining release of methane in the gas industry.

Andrew Read (Pembina)

Drew Nelson (EDF)

Keith Stewart (Greenpeace)

Dale Marshall (ED Natl. Prog. Manager) ‘Addressing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.’ Notes–audio presentation

John Werring (Suzuki Foundation). 3 summers of field work on methane, Montney Play, NE BC. Notes — audio presentation

Read’s presentation gives information on methane gas leakages from a number of pieces of equipment / structures / practices —fugitives (33%), venting (23%), pneumatics (20%), compressor systems (9%), well completions (1%), other (13%). The other presentations give their interpretations for the delay. Especially interesting was the final presentation by John Werring, which noted an absence of in-the-field inspection and monitoring. Monitoring of methane release has had rather little serious attention in NE BC.

In the listing of known methane leaks, what is missing is an assessment of the methane leakage owing to leakage from the vertical and horizontal well bores. The vertical well bores consist of one or several nested steel pipes, sealed on the outside surfaces with cement. The cement surrounds each pipe, including the outermost pipe, and is meant to keep the fracking water, and returning water and contained liquids, inside the pipe. The horizontal steel pipe has holes exploded through it to allow for the water containing fracking fluids to be forced under tremendous pressures out into adjacent shale layers. When the forced injection of fracking fluid and sand (or other propping material) is stopped, the fracking water, containing methane and other carbonaceous liquids from the surrounding shale parent material, moves into the bore and travels up to the surface. It is not clear how far the the cement casing extends from the vertical along the horizontal bore. So probably not all the fracking water plus dissolved organics gets back into the horizontal bore pipe. Some may escape through discontinuities in the parent material or by travelling along the outside of the bore pipe to the surface. This results in loss of desired methane and other gas and liquid materials, which may bubble to the surface at the well, or at distance from the well into aquifers, surface waters and water wells. Fracking wells have demonstrated this kind of uncontrolled loss of methane, increasing for several years after fracking well abandonment  (Ingraffia et al. 2013 and others, e.g. Cherry, Dusseault, Jackson).

After well abandonment, the cement casements can develop cracks owing to natural ground movements, probably caused by earthquakes which are stimulated by fracking (Ingraffia et al. 2014). The degree of cracking increases over time after well abandonment, such that 40% or more of the wells develop leakages of produced water with methane other gases, carbonaceous materials, and fracking chemicals. These compounds can rise upwards and are the ones often reported as spilling over at the well sites, and contaminating groundwater aquifers, wells used for animal and human consumption, and surface waters. As part of the environmental assessment, methane and other compounds escaping from the drilled wells need to be assessed to get a complete picture of fugitive methane and potential groundwater contamination. Very few human and livestock groundwater wells are being monitored in NE BC for methane and other fracking contaminants, before, during and after fracking and gas production. The release of methane and other materials from the drilled well, increasing with time, is a major characteristic of fracked wells (ibid.). As fracking is presently conducted, the fugitive methane leaking from the gas wells, as well as the rest of the sequence of gas capture, processing, and pipeline transportation, wipes out any benefits that may be obtained by low emissions at final burning of the gas (Romm 2014). Many authors have noted that owing to large gas leakage, it is highly doubtful that natural gas can act as an effective bridge fuel (Magill 2014).

With the rate of rising temperature associated with rising GHGs, can humankind really afford to put off serious and immediate action to minimize fugitive emissions of methane, a serious global warming gas? I don’t think we can afford to put off even by three years serious action on reducing fugitive emissions, establishing reasonable rates of carbon pricing, and lowering or removing subsidies to industries for fracking.  The temperature curve is rising steeply, and knowledgeable climate scientists indicate that we need to start immediately a wartime level effort to reduce emissions. Dr. James Hansen declares that we need to start reducing the emissions by 2-3% yearly, immediately, to have any chance of keeping temperatures below 2 degrees (see new temperature chart by James Hansen).

 

David Suzuki Foundation: New Science Reveals Unreported Methane from B.C.’s oil and gas industry threatens Canada’s international climate commitments.

Ingraffea, Anthony. 2013. Lethal Gas-Oil Wells in Pennsylvania, Seminar in NY State Seminar with illustrations. , 13Dec2013– “Lethal Gas/Oil Wells in Pennsylvania” (TEDx Albany 2013 via YouTube)

 

Written by Stephen Rees

August 2, 2017 at 4:41 pm

The Natural Gas System is Leaky and in Need of a Fix

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The first thorough comparison of evidence for natural gas system leaks confirms that organizations including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have underestimated U.S. methane emissions generally, as well as those from the natural gas industry specifically.

That’s a really neat summary of a new study from Stanford. The mainstream media is reporting this – often behind paywalls – so the link I have posted is to the original not them. It also seems that they have decided the story is to be about buses. That’s in the report but a ways down

the analysis finds that powering trucks and buses with natural gas instead of diesel fuel probably makes the globe warmer, because diesel engines are relatively clean. For natural gas to beat diesel, the gas industry would have to be less leaky than the EPA’s current estimate, which the new analysis also finds quite improbable.

“Fueling trucks and buses with natural gas may help local air quality and reduce oil imports, but it is not likely to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Even running passenger cars on natural gas instead of gasoline is probably on the borderline in terms of climate,” Brandt said.

At first this was the item that made me think I should blog about it. I have long been critical of the way that in BC we have glommed onto to NG as an alternative transportation fuel and have so often found it wanting. I won’t repeat that here.

What struck me was much closer to the top of the story

Natural gas consists predominantly of methane. Even small leaks from the natural gas system are important because methane is a potent greenhouse gas – about 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. A study, “Methane Leakage from North American Natural Gas Systems,” published in the Feb. 14 issue of the journal Science, synthesizes diverse findings from more than 200 studies ranging in scope from local gas processing plants to total emissions from the United States and Canada. [emphasis added]

“People who go out and actually measure methane pretty consistently find more emissions than we expect,” said the lead author of the new analysis, Adam Brandt, an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University. “Atmospheric tests covering the entire country indicate emissions around 50 percent more than EPA estimates,” said Brandt. “And that’s a moderate estimate.”

So instead of me ranting about buses I am going after the more significant target. Our Premier’s obsession with LNG, and how this is going to be both our fiscal salvation – and will help other countries wean themselves off dirtier fuels like coal.

The problem with natural gas – methane – is that is far more powerful as a greenhouse gas than CO2. As noted above “30 times more potent than carbon dioxide” which means while burning methane is cleaner than burning coal, if just small amounts leak unburned then the advantage in terms of impact on climate is negated. Since the leaks have been underestimated up to now, that means we now need to rethink some of our strategies. I think it is very common for the people who promote fracking to downplay the destructiveness and carelessness of their activities. So the phrase “some recent studies showing very high methane emissions in regions with considerable natural gas infrastructure” is striking even though in context it is stressed that these levels are not characteristic of the continent as whole. The frackers keep secret the chemicals they add into the water – and deny that these chemicals damage the water supply of people downstream. Rather like the way the tarsand developers prefer us to not pay attention to what happens to the water supply people who live near the operations depend on.

Even though the gas system is almost certainly leakier than previously thought, generating electricity by burning gas rather than coal still reduces the total greenhouse effect over 100 years, the new analysis shows. Not only does burning coal release an enormous amount of carbon dioxide, mining it releases methane.

But I do not think that justifies a strategy that throws LNG in as the be-all and end-all. Recent developments in solar power, for instance, are showing that the competitiveness of this source of electricity has been greatly improved. BC has all sorts of renewable energy sources that remain virtually untouched. Geothermal energy, for instance, seems to be mostly confined to a few spas and hot tubs. Wind and wave energy generally is ignored, despite our location on the shore of the Pacific.

There are also very real doubts about the viability of some of the proposals being floated for LNG plants, which seem to me to based more on wishful thinking than clear headed analysis of the realities of a market place that has recently seen a flood of new production for a product that is difficult to package and transport to market. It is still the case that what I was taught in that CAPP course all new employees of the Ministry of Energy were required to attend, that what comes out of the ground is either oily gas or gassy oil. And what the market demands here is usually liquid fuel, and the gas is flared. About half of the volume produced I’m told. Using lots of energy to liquify the gas and then ship it around the planet to be sold at competitive prices to places that can pipe gas in from much closer locations does not seem very likely to be viable.

But mostly I am very tired of this administration pretending to care about the climate (because we had the carbon tax implemented before other places) while doing their very best to undermine the limited success we have had in reducing our own ghg. Which may not be entirely due to good management but simply reduced levels of economic activity.