DOE unveils initiative to curb methane emissions from US gas systems

The US Department of Energy announced an initiative to reduce methane emissions from natural gas systems nationwide following a series of roundtables with stakeholders. The measures are part of the Obama administration’s larger methane emissions reduction strategy to fight causes of global climate change, DOE said.

“By expanding our discussions through these methane roundtables, we have heard from several different groups about the benefits to finding workable solutions to the problem of methane leakage,” US Sec. of Energy Ernest G. Moniz said on July 29.

“These benefits include job creation through pipeline and other equipment replacement, cost recovery for infrastructure investments that increase safety and save energy, and opportunities for addressing climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

DOE’s Initiative to Help Modernize Natural Gas Transmission and Distribution Infrastructure includes efficiency standards for gas compressors, research and development with the gas industry to improve systems’ efficiency and reduce leaks, a recommendation that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission look at cost recovery mechanisms for gas transmission infrastructure, and a partnership with the National Association of Regulatory Commissioners to accelerate distribution infrastructure investments.

“Every day, methane escapes from gas transmission, storage, and distribution infrastructure, costing both the gas industry and consumers money and raising safety concerns,” Moniz said. “Reducing these methane leaks can help consumers and industry save money, create jobs, modernize our energy infrastructure, and protect our environment.”

DOE’s announcement came days after the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Inspector General’s Office recommended that EPA work with the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to begin regulating methane emissions from local gas distribution companies’ pipelines (OGJ Online, July 28, 2013).

Already at work

Hours before Moniz made his announcement, the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America said US interstate gas pipelines made significant strides in reducing methane emissions, partly due to pipeline safety efforts and modernization and expansion projects to ensure system reliability and resiliency.

“The gas transmission pipeline industry reduced the number of leaks by 94%, preventing 122 million tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions over the past 3 decades, as a result of pipeline integrity and maintenance programs and continued investment in new pipeline facilities,” said INGAA Pres. Donald F. Santa.

“These prevented emissions are equivalent to removing more than 25 million passenger vehicles from the road for 1 year,” he said. “We are committed to go even further by establishing guidelines to reduce emissions from pipeline equipment, with a particular focus on the types of equipment with the largest emissions profile.”

INGAA said it would develop industry guidelines for Directed Inspection and Maintenance (DI&M) of gas pipeline. DI&M is a well-established and EPA-recognized tool for detecting and mitigating leaks in a cost-effective manner, the trade association said.

While most INGAA member pipeline companies use DI&M, the guidelines will improve consistency and uniformity, which should result in further emissions reductions. INGAA plans to work with research groups to create a roadmap for developing technological innovations to make DI&M even more effective.

In addition, INGAA said it, along with several member companies, is working with Colorado State University and Carnegie Mellon University in collaboration with the Environmental Defense Fund to help further validate and refine the estimates of GHG emissions from transmission and storage facilities.

Environmental groups respond

EDF welcomed DOE’s announcement. “Controlling methane is essential to protecting our climate and communities while conserving our natural resources,” EDF Pres. Fred Krupp said on July 29. “It requires all participants to work to minimize the risks and ensure we’re getting the potential value from natural gas.”

Krupp said, “It’s clear from the number of commitments made today—by academic, consumer, environmental, labor, and industry stakeholders—that much can and must be done to prevent methane emissions.”

Other environmental organizations said more needs to be done. “Today’s actions by DOE are a much needed and necessary step toward minimizing methane’s potent impact on our climate,” said Deb Nardone, who directs the Sierra Club’s Beyond Natural Gas campaign. “These important measures must be paired with quick action by EPA to regulate methane from oil and gas production, processing, and transport facilities, as well as finalizing a strong clean power plan.”

Nardone said, “Together, actions by DOE and EPA can move the ball forward to break our reliance on all fossil fuels, including dirty fraced gas, while ushering in clean energy and energy efficiency.”

Earthworks Policy Director Lauren Pagel was more critical. “While we applaud the commitments made by DOE, labor unions, utility groups, and other stakeholders, voluntary measures and new research initiatives don’t adequately protect communities and the climate,” she said.

“These rules can be a first step down the road to limit dangerous methane pollution and begin to truly shift our energy systems away from an ‘all-of-the-above’ strategy to one that throws the full weight of our resources behind renewable energy,” Pagel said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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