Digital innovation: how National Oil Companies can meet the methane challenge

National Oil Companies (NOCs) produce more than half of the world’s oil and gas, and control nearly 90% of proven reserves still in the ground. Owned and overseen by national governments,

As such, it is in both their commercial and national interest to minimize waste – particularly of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that is responsible for a quarter of the climate warming we’re experiencing today. Methane is the main ingredient in natural gas, and the global oil and gas industry leaks more than $34 billion of natural gas annually.

Not all oil and gas facilities, however, are created equal. Many of the solutions used to detect methane leaks today were designed for U.S. onshore infrastructure: a patchwork quilt of individual well pads owned and operated by thousands of different companies. However, in many of the largest producing countries oil and gas facilities can be the size of towns, in some cases over 20 miles wide.

So how can an NOC manage and mitigate their methane emissions most efficiently? The answer: by embracing digital methane innovation.It is a trend that is already taking hold in many parts of the industry. In a new survey by Accenture, 62% of respondents said digital technologies will play a critical role in helping the industry reduce methane emissions. This is because solutions like remote sensing, mobile and continuous monitoring, and big data analytics can quickly flag the presence of a leak and enable rapid interventions, which is key to significantly reducing unintended emissions events.

Digital Technologies Improving as Costs Decrease

Isabel Mogstad, Manager, EDF+Business

According to the same survey, one of the biggest barriers to reducing emissions today is the cost of detection technology. This is in part because of labor. The solutions most commonly used today are handheld cameras and analyzers that require individuals to walk a facility looking for leaks. A camera survey of a small well pad may take minutes. Yet one comprehensive survey of the sprawling operations common among NOCS can take months.

Digital methane innovation unlocks a new frontier for methane detection, helping companies know where there is (and isn’t) a leak, in some cases in near-real time. In so doing, companies can optimize the deployment of resources by sending their cameras and people only to the known problems, as opposed to sending labor to inspect an entire facility to find just a few emissions sources.

BP is a good example of an oil and gas company already seeing efficiency gains and cost reductions from pilot implementations of digital methane technologies. By integrating drone detection technology into its U.S. leak detection and repair (LDAR) program, the company increased the number of wells surveyed in a given day by as much as 900% while reducing cost per well inspected by 90%. This implantation of new technology brought the cost of regular Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) to roughly $40 per well.  The company is testing other digital solutions, including continuous methane monitors, at assets in Oman and the North Sea.

Early NOC Leaders

Some NOCs have taken action to reduce methane emissions from their operations. For example, several NOCs are part of  the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, which commits all members to a stringent 0.25% methane intensity target by 2025. Meanwhile, companies like Qatar Petroleum and SOCAR are signatories of The Methane Guiding Principles.

Progress will continue for NOCs, especially as new satellite technologies come online in the near future and provide precise methane detection and quantification data. MethaneSAT, a non-profit satellite mission affiliated with EDF, will launch in 2022 and map methane emissions across approximately 80% of global oil and gas production. This data will be public, free of charge, and available to support methane reduction strategies worldwide.

Furthermore, the European Union, an important market for NOCs, also is expected to drive methane progress as it lays out aggressive new low-carbon energy solution policies for natural gas suppliers. Future new EU gas policies could trigger closer scrutiny of operational excellence among gas suppliers, making alignment with industry methane standards crucial for key EU suppliers.

Now is the opportunity for all NOCs to supercharge and optimize methane reduction efforts by strategically integrating new digital methane solutions. This can start by reading Fueling a Digital Methane Future, a collaboration between EDF and Accenture to chart the digital methane pathway, and engaging with our subject matter experts.  In an increasingly competitive and carbon-constrained world, digitalizing methane management is one step NOCs can take now to adapt and enhance their resource stewardship in the evolving energy landscape.

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