Managing the Rising Risk of Methane, What Investors Can Do

sean-headshotIn a recent blog post, I discussed three ways investors can have a positive impact on the environment.  One of those levers is engagement, or using your influence with the companies you invest in to help ensure those companies are being managed both profitably and sustainably.

Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) is a recognized global authority on how investors can engage with companies to manage environmental risks. Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is partnering with PRI to release a new how-to guide for engaging with oil and gas companies globally on methane emissions.

As investor scrutiny ramps up on all forms of climate risk, investors globally are becoming more aware of and concerned about the material risks that methane poses to portfolios, detailed in EDF’s Rising Risk report.  That report found methane poses a series of reputational, regulatory and financial risks to operators and their investors.  Methane, 84 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, is a potent form of carbon risk, and left unmanaged it can literally leak away shareholder value.

An Investor’s Guide to Methane responds to growing demand from investors globally for practical guidance on how to not only manage these risks through company engagement, but surface opportunities as well.  Investors want to understand how companies should measure their emissions, what they should be reporting, and what kinds of best management practices they should adopt to keep more product in the pipeline.  This guide provides details on what leading methane management looks like.

Just as investors use quarterly earnings to understand who the most profitable companies are, investors can use the performance benchmarking framework included in the guide to help differentiate relative methane performance.  Because methane management is such a powerful proxy for operational excellence, understanding relative performance on the issue can be a helpful insight for investment decision-making. As such, early-engagers will have a first-mover advantage. This framework is also designed to help identify concrete next steps companies can take to improve management, such as using additional emissions reductions technologies or adopting methane reporting metrics.

summary-performance-assessment-toolThe guide also provides detailed questions to help support constructive dialogue.  For example, EDF’s Rising Risk report found that as of early 2016, zero of the leading 65 companies in the US had disclosed a methane reduction target. The guide includes questions such as “What form of a quantitative methane reduction target would work best for your company?” that can help an operator think through how to best set an ambitious but achievable target.

As part of their engagement, investors should expect all operators to measure, report and reduce their emissions:

Measure – We’ve all heard the phrase “what gets measured, gets managed.” Getting accurate information on a company’s methane emissions is the first step in understanding the extent of the problem, uncovering hidden risks, and identifying opportunities to bring more product to the bottom line.  The more accurate the information, the better positioned companies will be to effectively reduce emissions. Expert level methane management requires companies to utilize robust direct measurement, or the process of getting out into the field to measure emissions, as this is more accurate than desk-top estimates.

Report – Investors require actionable methane information in order to understand the relative performance of operators, and leading companies will demonstrate how they are managing methane risk.  Operators should set and disclose a methane reduction target, and report how they plan to meet that target. For example, expert level operators will report the frequency, scope and methodology for their leak detection and repair (LDAR) programs as one best practice to limit emissions.

Reduce – Minimizing methane emissions is highly cost effective, and can be done using proven, off the shelf technologies.  Because methane is both pollutant and product, many of these technologies have a positive payback. Investors should feel confident in encouraging companies to reduce emissions knowing they can do so in a shareholder-friendly manner.  Leading operators will show a declining trend in emissions, frequently inspect assets for leaks, join global voluntary initiatives like the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership, and support regulations to reduce emissions.

The key points from these three buckets, as well as related engagement discussion questions, are summarized in a 2-page cheat sheet summary investors can take to meetings with them.

managing methane riskMethane is the next frontier for investor engagement on climate and carbon risk. Unmanaged emissions of methane can directly undermine the natural gas’ ability to play a role in a lower-carbon energy economy, impair social license to operate and be a proxy for operational inefficiency.   Conversely, active methane management can inspire investor and stakeholder confidence, keep product in the pipeline and prepare companies to operate in an increasingly carbon-constrained, regulated world.

Investors should utilize their influence, and this guide, to ensure companies are proactively managing methane risks and leveraging opportunities.

Download An Investor's Guide to Methane

Follow Sean Wright on Twitter, @SeanWright23

Additional reading: Why energy investors need to manage methane as a Rising Risk


Three Ways Investors Can Drive Environmental Gains

sean-headshotInvestors can be powerful change agents when it comes to the environment. Investors have capital which they can allocate in ways that either help or hurt the environment. They also have significant influence with the companies they invest in and with policymakers globally, both critical stakeholders when it comes to improving the environment.

While some investors are already working at the nexus of the environment and finance, given the earth’s pressing environmental challenges like climate change, overfishing and deforestation, there has never been a greater need for all investors to engage on sustainability issues. For example, private capital will be essential in order to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change – a recent UN study estimated that it will require roughly $90 trillion dollars, much more than philanthropic or public (i.e., government) investments can fund.

Of course, investors should consider environmental issues not just to do good, but also because the returns often meet if not exceed the performance of more traditional investments. And because investors are interested in risk-adjusted returns, managing environmental risks like carbon and water is critical to any comprehensive investment process.

Below are three levers investors can use to when considering environmental impacts:

  1. Capital allocation – The first decision any investor must make is where to invest their money. Considering sustainability issues can help drive capital towards investments that provide both an environmental and financial dividend.

One way to allocate capital toward more sustainable investments is to integrate environmental criteria into the investment process. Organizations like Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) and Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) improve disclosure on issues like carbon emissions and water, enabling investors to gain insight into how efficiently a company operates and manages environmental risk. In this respect, as Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) disclosure improves, investors can move from screening out whole sectors to proactively allocating capital toward companies that better manage material environmental issues, an investment trend which is becoming more mainstream in the U.S.  For example, while Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) Rising Risk report found methane disclosure in the oil and gas industry to be poor, as methane data improves, investors will be able to shift capital to those operators who are actively managing risk from this powerful pollutant and wasted product.

Investors can also place their money into investments with an explicit environmental component, like green bonds. These bonds are a debt instrument specifically tied to achieving a beneficial environmental outcome like energy efficiency, climate resiliency, or water infrastructure. The market for these double bottom line investments has grown from less than $3b just a few years ago to over $40b in 2015.

Investors are gaining new opportunities to invest in innovative products that help to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and agriculture and improve sustainable fishing practices around the globe. Sustainable investing is also no longer just for sophisticated institutional investors. As financial tech startups are enabling individual retail investors to invest in an environmentally-friendly manner – giving all an opportunity to do well by doing good.

  1. Company engagement – Once their money is allocated, investors can then use their influence as equity or debt-holders to hold corporations accountable for environmental performance, risk management and disclosure. Organizations like Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) and Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) act to help investors be effective engagers by coordinating efforts on topics from deforestation and palm oil to water risks, and encourage collaboration where possible.

Engagement can include the ability of asset owners like private equity to work with portfolio companies to become more sustainable. EDF worked with leading private equity companies to design the Green Returns tool, which enables private equity to approach value creation through an environmental lens, and spot opportunities such as energy efficiency and waste reduction initiatives that generate cost-savings. Using this tool, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) was able to add $1.2 billion to the value of their portfolio while avoiding significant greenhouse gases, water use, and excess waste.

Shareholders in public companies also have the ability to file shareholder resolutions to publically encourage better environmental management. In 2016, shareholders filed a record number of climate-related resolutions, which a recent Harvard Business School study has shown to be effective in improving both financial and environmental performance when focused on material ESG issues.

  1. Policy Support – Getting the rules right will be critical in both addressing environmental issues directly and in driving private capital towards environmentally-friendly assets. As Hank Paulson, the former Treasury Secretary and CEO of Goldman Sachs noted in a recent NY Times Op-Ed, we need policies that “include environmental regulations to stimulate clean, sustainable development; incentives and subsidies for clean energy investments; and the pricing of carbon emissions.”

Investors with expertise on business, markets, and finance have an important role to play in the policy process. The next generation of investor leadership on sustainability will require aligning external policy positions with internal sustainability practices and playing a proactive and public role to support legislation and regulations.

Organizations like CERES have been instrumental in activating investors on policy matters. Just this year, CERES played a leading role in getting 76 global investors with $3.6 trillion in assets under management (AUM) to support methane regulations in the U.S. and Canada while working with organizations like Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC) in Europe to recruit 130 investors with $13 trillion in AUM to support implementation of the Paris agreement. Such statements of support are meaningful in helping build the business case for environmental policy.  And direct engagement with law and policy makers is a next frontier for investors looking to maximize their impact on supporting sound policy development.

The need for investors to engage on environmental issues has never been greater, and the opportunities to do so profitably have never been more widespread. Investors of all kinds should incorporate the levers of allocation, engagement and policy in their investment process – a move with the potential to benefit both the planet and their portfolios.

Follow Sean Wright on Twitter, @SeanWright23

Why energy investors need to manage methane as a Rising Risk


Time to Tell the EPA What Works in Methane Mitigation

aileen_nowlan_31394The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has committed to regulate existing sources of methane from the oil and gas industry, and it is asking for information from the methane mitigation industry to make sure the rule’s approach and requirements account for recent innovation. The EPA’s announcement comprises the U.S. portion of the North American commitment to cut methane by up to 45% from the continent’s oil and gas industry by 2025. Existing sources in the oil and gas industry make up over 90% of the sector’s emissions, which contribute over 9 million tons of methane pollution annually.

The opportunity is open now to tell the EPA what works in methane mitigation.


Emission standards for existing sources of methane will not only reduce greenhouse gases but could also create new markets and customers for the growing mitigation industry. The regulation will likely start with one or more approved work practices to find and fix methane leaks, describing a technology or group of technologies that must be used in a certain manner. For example, EPA’s New Source Performance Standards for new and modified sources of methane required the use of optical gas imaging cameras or “Method 21” instruments. With far more existing sources of methane than new or modified sources, being part of an approved work practice for existing sources would open up a significant market opportunity.

In one of the first steps toward developing the existing source rule, the EPA has set up a voluntary Request for Information, asking anyone with “information about monitoring, detection of fugitive emissions, and alternative mitigation approaches” to submit details by commenting on the Request for Information docket online. The EPA states it is particularly interested in “advanced monitoring technologies” that could be “broadly applicable to existing sources.” The EPA cites as an example “monitoring systems that provide coverage across emission points or equipment in a way that was not previously possible, thus enabling a different approach to setting standards.” A good submission may include “published or unpublished papers, technical information, data, or any other information” that might be relevant.

The deadline to submit information via comment to the agency is November 15, 2016. But there is no need to wait–those who submit earlier will be part of the conversation sooner. And a number of important topics need to be discussed to shape the existing source regulation. The federal New Source Performance Standards and Colorado’s methane regulation contain a pathway for innovative technologies—a mechanism, supported by industry and  environmentalists alike, for the EPA to evaluate and approve better methane reduction approaches. A similar approach could help incentivize advanced technology deployment for existing sources.  This request for information is the first invitation of many to highlight innovation in the methane mitigation industry.

Follow Aileen Nowlan on Twitter, @Aileennow

Read more about the emerging Methane Mitigation industry

Why energy investors need to manage methane as a Rising Risk


3 Keys for the American Petroleum Institute’s New Climate Task Force

The climate change discussion is percolating even in surprising places. The latest sign: the American Petroleum Institute’s recent formation of an internal task force on climate change. Reportedly the new task force’s mandate is to revisit API’s approach to this crucial issue, going into an election year and with ever greater scrutiny on fossil fuels.

AdobeStock_56840116It is too soon to know whether the task force will rubber stamp a business-as-usual approach defined by glossing over climate concerns and attacking policy measures, or chart a new path instead.

But if the task force is serious about a fresh look at the issue, here are three keys for the task force to consider as it ponders the future of API on climate. Read more

Regulation as a Platform for Innovation

IMG_0187To get anything accomplished, you can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. One unsung story buried in last week’s release of EPA’s new source methane rules may make good options even better – driving innovation and offering industry more options to meet the methane challenge.

The new rules target a pervasive problem: methane – the primary component of natural gas – leaking throughout the oil and gas value chain. Methane emissions represent a waste of saleable resources, a reputational risk, and a contributor to both poor local air quality and climate change.

Under the EPA’s framework, oil and gas operators must take steps to minimize emissions from new and modified sources – from finding and fixing leaks to swapping out equipment to reduce methane vented from pneumatic controllers and pumps. Companies in Colorado working to comply with the state’s similar rule have reported that putting similar measures in place is cost-effective, even generating positive returns from selling the captured gas.

But what should an agency do when the solutions available now are reasonable but not perfect? Existing strategies don’t monitor all the time – only a few days a year. So leaks and malfunctions can be missed, or leak for months before they are fixed.

MDC-devices-in-fieldNew technologies – emerging from research labs, startups and mature companies in adjacent sectors – can help spot leaks at lower cost, including through continuous monitoring. EDF’s Methane Detectors Challenge will launch pilots of sensitive, rugged, low-cost continuous methane monitors with oil and gas operators. Due to collaborative partnerships, these innovative technologies are advancing rapidly.

In a regulated industry like oil and gas, adaptability as technology progresses is key to ensuring operators can use more effective and lower-cost solutions as they become available. That insight led many innovators, forward-thinking oil and gas operators and EDF to call on EPA to include a pathway to innovation in the final rule. Read more

Three Ways Methane Standards Can Help the Oil and Gas Sector Rebuild

A massive wave of market and societal forces is changing the oil and gas industry. Low commodity prices are driving out weaker players with excessive debt, and forcing those that remain to become leaner and more efficient. As climate change effects worsen and countries move to fulfill their commitments from the Paris climate agreement, public scrutiny of oil and natural gas and their impacts only intensifies.

The question is not will industry change to meet these challenges — it’s how. It’s about what opportunities can propel industry to come back stronger out of the depths of the commodity slide, as a leaner, cleaner industry standing on firm ground that it can play a meaningful role as societies work to transition to lower-carbon economies.


While natural gas remains a fact of life, and switching from coal to natural gas has helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions, scientific research has demonstrated that potent methane emissions from the oil and gas system are undermining that climate benefit. The latest U.S. inventory shows over 9 million metric tons of oil and gas methane emissions, packing the same climate impact over a 20 year timeframe as over 200 coal-fired power plants. That’s a lot of methane no matter how you slice it.

Methane standards like the rule announced today by EPA can aid industry, for three reasons: Read more

Coming Soon: Solutions for Finding Methane Leaks Faster


Infrared footage of the leak from the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility

After more than four months of spewing potent methane pollution, the massive Aliso Canyon gas leak has finally been plugged. But now the state of California and the utility that owns the site, SoCalGas, are left with the responsibility of ensuring a disaster like this doesn’t happen again.

While Aliso Canyon has captured the attention of the nation, it’s important to remember that there are smaller—and far more prevalent—leaks happening throughout the country’s oil and gas supply chain every day. In fact, those emissions add up to more than 7 million metric tons of methane pollution every year.  That equals over $1 billion worth of wasted natural gas at 2015 prices.


Map of leaks around the Porter Ranch area

Methane leaks aren’t just wasteful—they have real impacts on communities. In Wyoming, for example, oil and gas pollution has driven up respiratory illness and smog levels to rival those in famously polluted Los Angeles. In California, residents living near the Aliso Canyon leak have already experienced headaches and vomiting; the long-term health impacts of their exposure to these leaks are a big unknown.

While solutions to detect leaks—like the infrared cameras that made the Aliso Canyon geyser visible to the world—are readily available today, a group of technology developers and oil and gas companies are collaborating with EDF to develop even more cost-effective–and automated–technologies to dramatically speed up leak detection. Read more

Houston: We Have Another Problem

nervous_investor2As oil and gas leaders converge on Houston for the year’s largest industry conference, CERA Week, falling oil and gas prices are understandably top of mind and a cause for concern for the industry. But there is another decline story underway in industry, one that poses a risk to the future of hydrocarbons in a carbon constrained world – a story of falling trust.

While today’s $30 oil price is disruptive in the short-term, new information on the very low level of public trust in the oil and gas industry should prompt concern from executives and investors about possible longer-term disruption to companies’ social license to operate.

The Industry’s Public Trust Problem

Recent polling conducted by KRC Research for EDF found that a mere 29 percent of Americans trust oil and gas companies to operate responsibly. Strikingly, even among Republicans, the trust rate is under 40 percent.

Digging deeper into the numbers, just 15 percent of Americans trust the oil and gas industry to be accurate in disclosing how much pollution they cause.

So what do these results mean?

They mean that a basic ingredient essential to the long-term viability of any industry – societal trust – is sorely lacking. When 197 nations agree to an ambitious framework and goal to cut greenhouse gas pollution, but very few Americans trust oil and gas operators to even disclose their pollution accurately, a collision course develops. Read more

Methane Emissions are Risky Business for Investors

No one likes uncertainty, least of all investors. From changes in interest rates, to supply chain disruptions, the list of risks investors must monitor is long and growing. Good, actionable information is investors’ most important tool for risk management and integral to successful investing. Without proper data, investors are flying blind.

Rising-Risk-coverA new report published by EDF this week  throws the spotlight on a growing risk for investors—methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. As so clearly demonstrated by the ongoing and massive leak at Aliso Canyon, methane emissions pose a multitude of expanding risks, with both short and long-term consequences.

Three key risks from oil & gas methane

At 84 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in the short-term, methane emissions represent a potent and fast-emerging form of carbon risk. In a world looking to reduce carbon pollution, methane emissions pose regulatory, reputational and economic risks. Preparedness to comply with forthcoming rules varies across the industry, methane undercuts natural gas’ ability to play a role in a carbon-constrained world, and emissions of methane are lost product amounting to $30 billion a year globally.

Investors should be asking themselves these questions:

  • Do you know how much money your oil and gas companies are losing?
  • Do you know if they have a plan to reduce emissions to limit impacts?
  • Do you know how prepared they are to comply with forthcoming regulation?

It’s difficult to find out, and that’s a problem. Read more

Cameras, Drones and Lasers: How They're Tackling Oil and Gas Pollution


Heath Consultants' methane-measuring drone

Dr. Jason Gu was still a graduate student when he developed the technology behind SenSevere, a start-up that creates laser-based gas sensors for use in heavy industry and power plants. Today, he’s working to apply this technology to methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, making him one of the many entrepreneurs developing solutions to tackle the problem. His fascination with innovation isn’t just making his clients more efficient—it may also be saving the planet.

The hidden cost of methane

Methane, the main component of natural gas, is a powerful pollutant responsible for a quarter of the global warming we feel today. The oil and gas industry releases 7 million tons of it into the atmosphere every year through emissions from oil and gas fields and associated pipelines, resulting in over a billion dollars’ worth of wasted American energy resources. And, toxic chemicals like benzene, a known carcinogen, can accompany methane emissions, posing a potential threat to public health.

“The industry is beginning to become more sensitized to the fact that methane is an aggressive greenhouse gas,” said James Armstrong, president of Apogee Scientific, a Colorado-based methane mitigation company. For more than 15 years, Apogee has manufactured a methane detection system that uses a vacuum and infrared sensors and can be mounted to trucks, ATVs and helicopters to identify leaks in the field. “If you find the leaks and repair them, you’re not only helping the environment…you’re extending the resource.” Read more