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.

To maximize the climate benefits of natural gas and meet the dual challenge of producing more energy with fewer emissions, we need to continue to look for new ways to address and control methane emissions.

One key step towards addressing this issue is direct regulation of methane emissions from new and existing sources by the EPA. BP supports direct regulation of methane and believes that well-designed, cost-effective and technically flexible regulation is the best way to further reduce and ultimately eliminate methane emissions industrywide.

Q: How else is BPX Energy approaching methane management in its operations?

Isabel Mogstad, Senior Manager, EDF+Business

A: BPX Energy is committed to addressing the methane challenge through digital technologies that help us expand the scope and scale of our efforts to reduce methane emissions.

Already, we’re seeing significant successes in deploying new technologies like our drone-based leak detection program. Fully integrated into our operations systems, the program includes advanced algorithms for prioritizing and dispatching work. These technologies are driving down the cost of leak detection considerably and allowing us to survey our Permian, Eagle Ford, and Haynesville well sites every month. By monitoring emissions via our drone LDAR program and analyzing the data for patterns, we identified an opportunity to improve the design and operating practices for an important safety device on our water tanks which significantly reduced emissions.

In the Permian Basin, we’re also developing centralized and electrified facilities to further reduce emissions and remove the need for other forms of power to support our operations. Centralized facilities reduce the number of pumps and compressors per unit of production, driving down the methane intensity of the oil and gas we produce. Electrification allows us to replace pneumatic devices with electrical ones that have zero methane emissions.

Q: What is the cost effectiveness of this new approach today?

A: We’ve achieved significant efficiencies through use of drone technologies to detect emissions as opposed to traditional methods where operators drive from site-to-site to inspect with hand-held monitors. Through this new approach, we increased the number of wells surveyed in a given day by as much as 900% and reduced our cost per well inspected by 90% — bringing the cost of regular LDAR to around $40 per well. Combining the data from the drones with our advanced analytics program and automated work orders, we’re able to deploy technicians to conduct repairs far more quickly than under our previous ways of working.

We’re confident our automated approach will also lead to better safety performance (fewer miles driven, less climbing on equipment) and minimize environmental impact. The sooner we identify emissions, the sooner they can be addressed. Just as important, our innovative facility designs improve our capital efficiency and will result in lower methane emissions from the outset of a well’s life.

Q: What does technology innovation mean for the methane regulations of today and the future?

A: Technology can play a crucial role in addressing the methane challenge, and we have encouraged the EPA to create pathways for faster adoption of those new technologies.

We’ve been encouraged by research carried out at Colorado State University’s Methane Emission Technology Evaluation Center (METEC) to evaluate the latest technologies and compare them to those approved by the EPA. BP is also working with Colorado State University and other companies on an equivalency framework modelling project. This research will help rigorously demonstrate to regulators how new technologies can be more environmentally effective than traditional approaches.

Advances in technology offer the potential to speed detection time, enabling more leaks to be found and fixed with greater efficiency. These advances also allow us to learn from those leaks, improving both our designs and our performance going forward.

Q: It’s one thing to go after the latest and greatest technology. It’s another to create a culture of innovation. How has BPX Energy adapted to support a culture that is data-driven?

A: Part of it was born out of necessity. A few years ago, BP’s U.S. onshore business was simply not competitive, and BP decided to create a whole new operating model for the business to address this.

We have fully embraced the potential of new technologies to help us get better, smarter, and most of all, safer. As a result, we generate huge amounts of data that can no longer be analyzed by individuals alone.

We are retraining people who used to turn wrenches in the field to write code. We’ve placed a high priority on developing our own people, as well as recruiting top talent from outside our industry who have brought fresh eyes and new ideas to big challenges. Analytics and data science allow people to be more focused on solving other problems and working on higher-value tasks.

BPX Energy recently created the position of chief innovation officer to help implement our technology strategy and show our commitment to innovating in the industry, and I’m proud to be leading this new team.

Follow Isabel on Twitter at @isabel_mogstad