The New Era of Data Driven Methane Management: Q&A with BPX Chief Innovation Officer

Virtually eliminating methane emissions is a critical complement to CO2 reductions and essential to bending the curve of greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas sector by 2030. Environmental Defense Fund and BP are pursuing a three-year collaboration to advance technologies and practices to reduce methane emissions from the global oil and gas supply chain. I recently had the chance to sit down with Brian Pugh, Chief Innovation Officer BPX, to discuss technology innovation, the role of methane regulations, and creating a data-driven culture.

Q: Why is reaching near zero methane emissions an important issue for BP and its U.S. onshore upstream company BPX Energy?

A: Minimizing methane emissions is the right thing to do – for the environment and our business.

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Federal methane rollbacks spark new opposition from 12 major utilities

Backlash continues to grow against the Trump administration’s efforts to deregulate methane emissions from the oil and gas industry. The coalition opposing the Environmental Protection Agency’s rollbacks now includes major oil and gas companies¹, a midstream gas transmission operator, investors representing over $5.5 trillion in assets under management and 12 of the nation’s largest utilities

These utilities, who use natural gas produced by oil and gas companies for electricity generation and delivery to commercial and residential consumers, have expressed strong opposition to the proposed regulations, recognizing national standards as the “foundation” of industry efforts to reduce methane emissions.

The public comment period, which began on Sept. 24, offers downstream energy providers a key opportunity to publicly add their voice to the broad set of stakeholders supporting federal regulation of methane in the oil and gas sector.

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Four ways EPA methane rollbacks threaten American natural gas

At the behest of the American Petroleum Institute, the Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to eliminate nationwide limits on methane pollution, sending America’s natural gas industry backwards to the days of uncontrolled emissions. This dangerous proposal threatens the climate, the communities living near oil and gas development and the increasingly vulnerable status of American natural gas in a transition to a net-zero carbon emission economy.

Any business depends on four fundamentals to operate successfully: demand from customers, acceptance from society at large, financial capital to invest and talent to do the work. America’s natural gas industry is no different.

Eliminating methane standards would increase risk to each part of this foundation, making this proposed rollback a prime opportunity for risk-conscious executives and investors to speak out this fall. Read more

Industry momentum builds for nationwide methane regulation

Oil and gas companies in the United States are the latest to add their voices to the broad set of stakeholders supporting federal regulation of methane emissions from the oil and natural gas sector. These companies have a major responsibility to reduce methane emissions, a key step in the energy transition. This week in Houston, at CERAWeek, Shell, ExxonMobil and BP took important steps to support nationwide direct methane regulation, with Shell urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to not deregulate methane emissions and to even tighten standards.

There is more opportunity than ever before to regulate and reduce emissions in ways that work for industry and the environment. As ExxonMobil wrote, federal methane regulation “helps build stakeholder confidence, and provides long-term certainty for industry planning and investment while achieving climate related goals.”

The federal regulation of methane emissions is an essential effort that builds on proven state regulatory models and positive efforts that dozens of companies are already practicing as part of sound business operations.

It’s time for more companies to speak up, because without nationwide methane regulation, industry is only as strong as its weakest link.

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Methane rollbacks create moment of truth for oil and gas executives

How top energy companies engage in the U.S. methane policy debate in the coming weeks may tell us a lot about the future of natural gas.

As these companies have themselves recognized, the role of natural gas in a world that can—and must—decarbonize depends on minimizing harmful emissions of methane from across oil and gas production and the natural gas value chain. But a recent comprehensive study involving dozens of leading academics and companies around the country found that U.S. methane emissions from industry are 60 percent higher than prior estimates—enough to double the climate impact of natural gas.

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How virtual reality can help the oil and gas industry confront its invisible challenge: methane

I’m a certified oil and gas tech nerd, and I’ve never before been this excited about my job.  I love data and the insights that it surfaces, along with the immense possibility of applying those insights to catalyze continuous improvement. There are few decisions I make without an Excel spreadsheet – and, after spending several years working for an oilfield services company, I’m passionate about solving one of the biggest environmental problems of our time: methane emissions.

Methane is the main ingredient in natural gas and a common byproduct of oil production. Unburned, it’s also a powerful greenhouse gas. Worldwide, about 75 million metric tons of methane escape each year from oil and gas operations (through leaks, venting and flaring) – making the industry one of the largest sources of manmade methane emissions.

As methane risk is starting to draw increasing attention from public officials, major investors, and leaders within the industry, tech solutions are booming and “digitization of the oilfield” is becoming industry’s hottest new term.

The good news: many of these tech solutions are available today and easy to deploy on a wellsite. Unfortunately, many stakeholders involved in this global challenge have either never been to a wellsite or don’t spend much time on a wellsite. And even if they do, methane is invisible.

That’s why EDF worked with the creative agencies, Hunt, Gather and Fair Worlds, to build a new virtual reality (VR) experience, called the Methane CH4llenge, that brings the wellpad to you and showcases the power of tools like infrared cameras and portable analyzers to experience first-hand what methane leaks look like.

I recently spoke with Hunt, Gather / Fair Worlds Creative Director Erik Horn, my partner in crime for this project, about developing the VR, which you can experience at the World Gas Conference next week. Here are five takeaways from our discussion, which you can watch in full here. Read more

Natural gas, meet Silicon Valley. The challenge for mobile methane monitoring is now underway

Oil and gas methane monitoring

Three years ago, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) united with oil and gas industry leaders including Shell and Statoil to launch the Methane Detectors Challenge – a collaborative effort to catalyze the development and deployment of stationary, continuous methane monitors. With industry pilot projects now cropping up from Texas to Alberta, continuous methane monitoring on natural gas sites is on a pathway to become one of the core tools in the monitoring toolkit.

And that’s a good thing – 24/7 monitoring is the gold standard for emissions control, opening a new frontier in site-level insight. It will enable real time identification and repair of natural gas waste that pollutes the atmosphere, and the industry’s own reputation.

Now, another exciting area of innovation is emerging, as entrepreneurs, technologists, and academics pursue mobile approaches to monitor leaks. Whether by plane, helicopter, drone or truck, mobile monitoring offers the promise of surveying highly dispersed industrial facilities – including smaller and older ones – quickly and effectively. With an estimated one million well pads in the United States alone, the speed and coverage of monitoring matter.

Environmental Defense Fund takes oil and gas operators and local media for a demonstration of mobile monitoring technology from Apogee Scientific

Mobile methane monitoring for some sites could be a perfect complement to continuous monitoring for others, offering a 1-2 punch solution to comprehensively monitor and address emissions across a highly variable industry, with fit-for-purpose tools.

A new collaborative challenge to reduce methane

That’s why we are so pleased to support Stanford University’s Natural Gas Initiative by announcing the Stanford/EDF Mobile Monitoring Challenge (MMC). The MMC is the latest collaborative innovation project from EDF, partnering with Dr. Adam Brandt of Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, the principal investigator for MMC and one of the world’s leading scientists studying oil and gas methane emissions.

Stanford/EDF Mobile Monitoring Challenge – Now accepting applications

The aim of the Mobile Monitoring Challenge is to rigorously test and compare the most promising new mobile technologies and approaches to quickly detect and quantify methane emissions – with extra interest in commercially scalable options.

Calling all methane monitoring entrepreneurs

Today begins a 45-day application period for technologists around the world who wish to participate in 15 days of field trials. Stanford and EDF, aided by industry and other expert advisors, will pick the most promising submissions this fall, and Professor Brandt’s team will oversee field testing with controlled releases of methane this winter and spring, culminating in a Stanford paper documenting results for the peer-review process.

Candidates for the Mobile Monitoring Challenge should have methane monitoring technology that:

  • Is field ready
  • Can be deployed on a mobile platform (e.g. drone, plane, car, truck, etc.)
  • Is cost-effective and can quickly detect leaks at multiple sites
  • Provides both detection and quantification

See the Stanford/EDF application process for full details.

With subsequent real world testing and demonstration, the leading mobile monitoring approaches coming out of this initiative may even support regulatory compliance, propelling greater emission reductions at even less cost – the classic win/win.

[Tweet “How innovations in tech can help eradicate climate warming methane emissions – learn more”]

Three years ago, EDF was encouraged to receive dozens of technology applications from around the world for the Methane Detectors Challenge. With the ongoing sensor revolution coupled with the surge in methane emissions interest across North America and the world, we are even more optimistic today about what the future holds.

That’s because at EDF, we know that bringing the right stakeholders together to harness diverse thinking and innovative technologies is the next wave of environmental progress.

Let the challenge begin!


Follow Ben on Twitter, @RatnerBen


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