A US programme to reduce methane from oil and gas production has achieved an emission reduction of 38 Mt in 2010, compared with business-as-usual levels. That is equivalent to 60% of the cost-effective carbon abatement potential and 27% of the technical potential.
If the US achievement in reducing methane were scaled up to all oil- and gas-producing countries, this could result in annual emissions savings of 315-420 Mt in 2025. By 2030, the reduction would be 330-447 Mt.
The technical potential for cutting emissions is considerably higher. With aggressive reduction targets, the global abatement potential could be as much as 1.3 Gt in 2030.
Established in 1993, the US Natural Gas STAR Program is a flexible, voluntary partnership. It encourages oil and natural gas companies to adopt proven cost-effective technologies and practices which improve operational efficiency and reduce methane emissions. Measures include improved inspection and maintenance, but also technologies such as low bleed pumps and vapour recovery units.
Natural Gas STAR partners include operators in all major industry sectors that deliver natural gas to end users. Since its inception, the programme has implemented around 150 cost-effective technologies and practices to cut methane emissions. In 2006, the initiative expanded its membership worldwide, significantly increasing opportunities for emission reductions.
Reducing methane emissions from oil and gas production actually saves money, due to the economic value of the recovered gas. The savings in different regions range from –50 $/tCO2e to –3 $/tCO2e. Scaling up the solution would generate savings worth $6 to $9 billion per year in 2025 and $6 to $10 billion in 2030.
Limiting fugitive methane emissions maximises available energy resources and reduces economic waste. Upgrading production assets to adopt suitable technologies and practices may improve operational and economic performance, making these more robust and less susceptible to downtime. The implementation and development of abatement measures may also result in increased employment and improved worker safety.
Cutting methane emissions reduces also the emissions of conventional pollutants, such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and hazardous air pollutants (HAPs). Cuts in air pollution in turn reduce health risks.
Barriers and drivers
- Barriers for implementing the solution are low, as it often generates direct cost savings. Additionally, the US programme seems to have had little trouble expanding to other parts of the world.
- Oil and gas companies have not implemented cost-saving methane reduction measures more broadly because traditionally they expect even higher rates of return for invested money. The US programme tackles this problem by providing companies with resources for technical assistance.
- The technology to cut emissions already exists. However, in some cases site-specific factors may make technologies infeasible.
- Implementation lies mainly with companies. The right policy environment is required to drive adoption on a wider scale.