A summary of USEPA white papers on methane and VOC emissions in the oil and gas industries and what they mean for the CSG industry in Australia

By Li Fitzmaurice and Mitch Kelly 

Summary of USEPA’s white papers

While coal seam gas (CSG) investment is steaming ahead in Australia, the industry recognises the importance of estimating and reducing methane emissions in this sector. The key for success will heavily rely on technologies for cost-effective monitoring and mitigation.

The five white papers released on 15 April 2014 from the USEPA on methane and volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions from the oil and gas sector summarise the current understanding of primary emission sources and technologies for monitoring/mitigation.  You can download a copy of them from here.

The main aim of these white papers is to reduce methane emissions, a powerful way to take action on climate change (note: globally, methane emissions account for 15% of all GHG emissions). However, it will have the co-benefit of reducing VOC emissions and improving air quality and human health.  

The release of the five white papers is part of the White House’s overall Climate Action Plan Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions (the Strategy), released in March 2014 by the Obama Administration. In addition to the oil and gas sector, the Strategy will also target methane emissions from landfills, coal mines and agriculture. It is interesting to note that the Strategy emphasises the importance of US leadership in global efforts to tackle methane emissions. It mentions that the US government is spearheading several key international initiatives via the “Climate and Clean Air Coalition” (CCAC) and “Global Methane Initiative”.  Australia is a participating country in both initiatives/schemes. 

Each white paper (5) covers a significant source of emissions; compressors, leaks, liquid unloading, pneumatic devices, and emissions from completions and ongoing production of hydraulically fractured oil wells. Even though we recognise some differences between CSG and traditional natural gases, we believe the first four white papers listed above (on compressors, leaks, liquid unloading, and pneumatic devices) are very much relevant to the CSG industry in Australia. The last white paper on oil wells may not be as relevant to the CSG industry, however holds some important information on hydraulic fracturing practices, which may be used in gas well development. The contents of the white paper should therefore not be discounted by the Australian CSG industry. 

The gas industry in these white papers includes not only the traditional gas co-produced from oil wells, but the increased development of shale gas, tight gas and CSG (i.e. coalbed methane resources).

While it may be easier to imagine the emissions from compressors and leaks, the emissions from pneumatic devices and liquid unloading are not well circulated information. These white papers cover the technical aspects of these emissions and available mitigation technologies, and are therefore a good education resource for both environmental managers in the CSG industry and other interested parties.  

The five white papers were released for external peer review. The USEPA will use them, along with the input received from the peer reviewers and public in the next few months (before 16 June 2014), to determine “how to best pursue additional reductions” from these sources.  At this stage, the recommendations from the US EPA will not be forced upon industry. If oil and gas producers do not voluntarily act to reduce their emissions, the US EPA has not ruled out additional regulations by the end of 2016.

In Australia, the current framework for quantifying GHG emissions from the CSG industry is National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting (NGER), however there are significant gaps in NGER Technical Guidelines, due to the emerging nature of the industry and the lack of specific Australian emission data. Given the typical path of NGER Technical Guidelines to obtain the industry best practice from US EPA (Currently GHG emission from the oil and gas industry in NGER refers to the American Petroleum Institute Compendium, 2009), there may be increased requirements for the Australian CSG industry to better quantify their GHG emissions and better manage and mitigate methane emissions in the near future.

How Pacific Environment Can Help

Pacific Environment’s team has conducted methane emission leak detection, emission testings, and greenhouse gas emission estimates for the CSG industry across Australia.  Partnered with overseas specialised consultants in this area, our team is ready to help your company to face emerging challenges in your industry with robust, reliable and timely solutions.

Want to find out more? 

Contact us 

Feel free to email us at enquiries@pacific-environment.com or call us on 1300 987 009.