Author: Joseph Murphy, Natural Gas World | 24 March, 2023
Human-caused methane emissions are a major driver of global warming, with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Sixth Assessment showing that they are responsible for almost 45% of current net warming. The IPCC, the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) and others stress that cutting methane emissions over the next decade will keep the plant significantly cooler than efforts to reduce CO2 emissions alone.
The energy sector is second only to agriculture as the biggest contributor of these anthropogenic methane emissions, and so therefore has a critical role to play in addressing the problem. And tackling emissions from the natural gas value chain will be key for LNG retaining its social licence on the path to net zero. A number of initiatives have emerged to do just that.
The Oil and Gas Methane Partnership (OGMP), led by the UNEP and involving many of the world’s leading oil and gas companies, launched its OGMP2.0 framework in 2020. The framework’s aim is to establish a gold standard for accurately and transparently reporting oil and gas sector methane emissions, and its participants are aiming to cut their emissions by 2030. It has established its own database of empirically verified methane emissions, by collecting and reconciling data from multiple sources, including company reporting, satellite, scientific methane measurement studies and national inventories.
OGMP2.0’s membership has expanded to cover more than 35% of global oil and gas production and over 70% of LNG flow. The incentive for companies to join is that the initiative gives them a credible means of demonstrating to governments and to the general public that they are making progress towards reducing their emissions.
There is also the Methane Guiding Principles (MGP), a voluntary initiative that provides companies with practical tools and guidance to address emissions. The central aims of the initiative are continually reducing emissions, advancing strong performance across the gas supply chain, improving the accuracy of emissions data, advocating for sound policy and regulation and increasing transparency. The principles were signed by eight international oil and gas companies in November 2017.
MGP has worked with academics and non-governmental organisations to develop a suite of guidance materials to help organisations develop their own methane action plans, including summaries of the current known mitigations, costs and available technologies, a methane cost model that provides users with a way to screen potential methane reduction projects, a gas assessment tool organisations can use to assess their methane management systems and a global outreach programme involving courses on the importance of methane management and on awareness and know-how on dealing with those emissions.
Also borne from the industry is the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI), comprising 12 of the world’s largest oil and gas companies including ExxonMobil, BP and Saudi Aramco, whose members are aiming to reach near-zero methane emissions by 2030. The group collectively lowered their methane intensity from 0.30% in 2017 to 0.23% in 2029 and 0.17% in 2021. OGCI also launched its own $1bn Climate Investments (OGCI CI) fund that supports companies developing innovative technologies to reduce their methane and CO2 emissions, as well as for CO2 recycling. Their portfolio ranges from companies monitoring and quantifying methane emissions to those eliminating emissions, developing low-emission equipment and providing methane management services.
In the US there is also the ONE Future Coalition, founded in 2014 and consisting of more than 50 US companies committed to voluntarily cutting their collective methane emissions intensity across the natural gas value chain to 1% or less. Among ONE Future’s key principles is allowing members to allocate capital towards reducing methane emissions in ways tailor-made to individual capacities. That means companies do not have to adopt specific technologies or methodologies in their strategies. ONE Future has surpassed its 1% intensity goal every year since 2017.
Commitments are one strategy to tackle methane emissions, but another is by directly linking how clean gas supply is to commercial incentives. This is where the gas certification comes in.
A leader in this field is the MiQ non-profit initiative, which has already certified almost 20% of US natural gas production based on its methane intensity. Launched by RMI and Systemiq in December 2020, the initiative works by grading gas based on its methane intensity and how frequently and effectively operators inspect their facilities, as well as the company practices they have introduced.
MiQ so far has only been used for certifying gas in North America, but the ambition is to introduce its standards to producers across the world, while also extending its criteria beyond the upstream sector to cover the entire gas value chain, including LNG. This will enable end gas users to understand clearly how clean their product is.
MiQ is incorporated in the EO100 standard devised by another non-profit Equitable Origin to assess the environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance of gas supply.
Another for-profit initiative, is Project Canary, which offers natural gas producers a way of certifying their production based not only on methane emissions intensity but many other environmental criteria. To have their gas certified as responsibly-sourced (RSG), producers have the environmental impact of their operations assessed using 62 key measurement criteria and more than 600 data points under Project Canary’s Trustwell programme. Their methane intensity is also measured via continuous monitoring, and their gas is certified either as silver, gold or platinum RSG.
Lastly there is Xpansiv’s Digital Fuels Program, launched in 2011, that provides Canadian and US producers a platform to demonstrate how they have avoided methane emissions in their production, issuing methane performance certificates for methane intensities of less than 0.437%.
As shown, there are many different voluntary initiatives aimed at tackling methane emissions in the natural gas industry. While authorities across the world are tightening regulation of these emissions, the aim of these initiatives is to bring about reductions faster where possible.