Shell launches methane pilot

Sept. 19, 2017
Aim is to minimize methane emissions in North America and elsewhere

Aim is to minimize methane emissions in North America and elsewhere

SHELL HAS LAUNCHED a methane detector pilot project at one of its shale gas sites in Alberta, Canada. The pilot test is part of a wider multi-stakeholder initiative called the Methane Detectors Challenge, a partnership between Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), several oil and gas companies, US government agencies, and technology developers to test next-generation methane detection technologies.

The initiative aims to enable better early detection and repair of methane leaks, and ultimately reduce emissions. While detection technologies and processes are already in place across industry, more technical innovation is desired.

Methane Detectors Challenge, Alberta, Canada. Shell photo

"This pilot shows we're serious about reducing the methane emissions associated with natural gas production to support the overall climate benefit of this fuel," said Greg Guidry, executive vice president of unconventionals at Shell. "Shell is looking at all aspects of its operations, from equipment to processes, to assess and identify emission reduction opportunities," he added.

Shell says that it follows global operating principles to develop its shale resources safely and responsibly, and has voluntary leak detection and repair programs across all its shale gas sites. However, the Quanta3 sensing system used in the pilot is a new technology that can continuously monitor methane emissions, unlike handheld optical gas imaging (OGI) cameras.

Dirk Richter, the founder and CEO of Quanta3, commented: "Our technology provides operators with real-time information on the integrity and performance of their sites."

"A new frontier of methane detection is coming, and Shell is helping to give us a glimpse of that future," said Ben Ratner, director of EDF. "The ultimate test will be whether the industry scales new tools and approaches to minimize wasteful methane emissions in North America and across the world."

West central Alberta was selected as the location for Shell's North American detector pilot because it offers the necessary infrastructure to adequately test the technology. Additionally, the cold weather conditions in Alberta provide a unique environment to test the system compared to previous pilots.

Depending on the outcome of the pilot, next generation detection technologies could be used to complement OGI cameras and other monitoring tools. These technologies could also have broader applications across the natural gas value chain.

In addition to the Methane Detectors Challenge, Shell is involved in other partnerships, including the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI), to understand the gaps in methane data and detection technology to help both companies and policy-makers act more effectively.

Using recent US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) methane emission estimates and US Energy Information Administration (EIA) natural gas production values, the methane emission rate is derived to be around 1.1% in the natural gas sector (in the US), with the production segment making up approximately 0.7% of the total. Emission rates from Shell production facilities are estimated to be even lower. Effective leak detection is needed to maintain this low rate, and potentially even reduce it.