Managing methane: Canada’s other GHG
Canadian industry and government officials are attempting to reduce primary and secondary methane emissions some 90% over the next decade as part of the country’s long-term climate change strategy, according to a discussion on methane mitigation October 5, part of NGW’s Canadian Gas Dialogues webinar series.
And with good reason. Methane is second only to CO2 as a source of greenhouse gas linked to climate change. Though its lifetime in the atmosphere is shorter than CO2, the impact of methane on global warming was estimated by the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2014 to be 84 times greater than CO2 per equivalent unit of emitted mass. Recent research suggests that the contribution of methane emissions to global warming is 25% higher than previously believed.
This in turn has raised the issue to new global concern. Mel Ydreos with Energy Vantage says methane reduction wasn’t taken seriously outside of North America until UN climate change talks in Durban, South Africa in 2016.
“Industry was ill-prepared to deal with this issue”, he told the webinar. “The focus on this issue has intensified and Canada can play a leadership role”.
Methane originates from a variety of natural and man-made sources including agriculture, wetlands, waste water processing – and even volcanic activity. The Global Methane Initiative (GMI) estimates anthropogenic methane emissions from man-made sources to be on the order of 9,930mn mt of CO2 equivalent in 2020. The lion’s share, or some 40%, is related to agriculture, but the fossil fuel sector, including coal, accounts for nearly a third of the total. Canada represents about 1% of the global total.
Those figures, however, are complicated by the fact that methane is extremely difficult to measure. The ability to reliably detect it has only been available for the past few years, due mainly to advances in visualization technology from the US military.
That lack of measurement certainty in turn makes it difficult for policy makers to develop effective strategies to regulate it, Gerald Palanca, manager, emissions management at the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) said. “You can only manage what you can measure”.
On September 25, the Alberta government announced a C$52mn (US$39mn) programme to help companies pay for equipment to reduce those emissions.
The AER has mandated a near-term 45% reduction target from 2014 levels by 2025, although Larry Frederick, a senior technical advisor with the Petroleum Technology Alliance of Canada (PTAC), said that figure could be as high as 90% by 2030 depending on advances in technology and, most importantly, cost. Frederick estimated present technology exists to reduce emissions some 30% at unit cost of about C$5/mt.
Alberta has been recognized as a global leader in virtually eliminating flaring – in 2019 some 98% of solution gas from oil production was conserved – and the government feels the same can be done with methane despite a reported 184% increase in so-called fugitive emissions from some 146,000 facilities across the province.
But Palanca cautioned that the figure is a result of more stringent monitoring and measurement requirements as opposed to an absolute increase in actual volumes. “On the surface it looks like we’ve increased methane (emissions)…this is not a true statement”, he said. “It’s a snapshot of the past before we made regulatory changes.”
Wayne Hillier, a vice-president with Modern West Advisory in Calgary, previously worked with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers on the flaring file and agreed that cost is the only barrier to driving similar methane reductions past 90%. That’s why PTAC’s Frederick said it will be important to develop technology solutions that industry will be willing and able to adopt on a large scale.
Hillier also noted a challenge to grandfathering the vast majority of existing sites while imposing stricter standards for new builds. He noted several upstream producers such as Seven Generations Energy have committed to building zero-emission well-sites and processing plants going forward.
Once captured, methane has a variety of end uses: it can be converted in liquified natural gas (LNG), used as an input for fuel cells or as a catalyst for creating CO2 for use in enhanced oil recovery. PTAC’s Federick estimates the “size of the prize” on the order of C$30bn per year but cautioned that even though “it can be done technologically, economically it’s much harder” to do.
Nonetheless, Energy Vantage’s Ydreos said methane reduction is a “great opportunity” for Canadian companies to develop technology and standards that can be applied around the world. “It’s a global problem, but Canadian industry is well positioned.”