Methane Emissions Gain Attention As Gas Production Rises

PITTSBURGH—The positive environmental impact of natural gas is clear in that it emits less carbon dioxide than oil and coal. But the release of its primary component—the potent greenhouse gas methane—is holding the attention of industry players and others as gas production and demand increases.

Methane emissions were discussed during Hart Energy’s recent DUG East Conference and Exhibition. Fugitive emissions, if not kept in check, can negate the benefits of natural gas as it escapes from equipment and pipelines. However, techniques and technology are already available to monitor and capture methane, panelists said.

Going back to emissions inventories can point companies in the right direction and give insight on emissions footprints, according to Jim Sewell, environmental manager for Shell Oil Co.’s Appalachia region. “They can be criticized and not complete, whatever the story might be,” Sewell said of emissions inventories. But “They still do inform you on what your emissions are and where you can do the most good whether or not it’s NOx emissions or methane emissions or VOCs [volatile organic compounds].”

Other proven technologies—no longer considered new—include use of infrared cameras and flame ionization detectors that sniff out leaks, Sewell said, adding simple technologies like the “soapy water” technique can also be used to find leaks. Bubbles form in the presence of leaks or holes.