Minimise emissions with control and monitoring solutions

Intelligent technologies like solenoid valves, wireless thief-hatch monitors, and advanced redundant control systems can help reduce methane emissions.

Anne-Sophie Kedad

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Article Summary

Globally, oil and gas operations account for 15% of total energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (OECD, 2023). This significant percentage of GHG emissions has led to increased emissions regulations by multiple governments and agencies. Reducing these emissions in a cost-effective manner will be essential for both the planet and the long-term viability of the global energy industry.

Fugitive emissions, particularly methane, are either unintentional or undesirable methane leaks or discharges from working wells, pressure-containing equipment or facilities. Technologies exist to minimise or even eliminate fugitive emissions, with industry-wide initiatives such as the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative’s (OGCI) ‘Aiming for zero methane by 2030’ leading the way (OGCI, 2022). Oil and gas production companies are investing in new processes and technologies to minimise GHG emissions in their production wells, tank farms, refineries, chemical plants, and pipeline operations.

New control and monitoring systems are essential in the drive to minimise fugitive GHG emissions. Technologies to address fugitive emissions include smart, rugged solenoid-operated and electric valve systems for upstream oil and gas extraction designed to significantly reduce emissions at the wellhead and storage and separator systems. There are also reliable monitoring technologies that can help ensure thief hatches are locked on tank storage systems – a persistent source of fugitive emissions now subject to stringent regulations. Addressing fugitive emissions using these technologies can make a critical contribution towards meeting the industry’s emissions reduction goals.

While preventing fugitive emissions is one way companies are minimising GHG emissions and meeting regulations, some are pursuing new opportunities altogether. Natural gas producers are using new solutions to safely ramp up lower carbon intensity ammonia synthesised from more environmentally friendly blue hydrogen.

Smarter, simpler valve controls and monitoring devices are key ‘areas of opportunity’ in the industry’s value chain to identify, control, and ultimately eliminate GHG emissions. Applying the right technology will have a dramatic cumulative impact on decarbonisation efforts.

Significant new regulatory requirements
In addition to voluntary initiatives, leading countries such as the US and the European Union have introduced regulations to significantly reduce GHG emissions from oil, gas, and coal mining operations. These regulations are designed to fulfil the US and EU’s commitments to the Global Methane Pledge, adopted by more than 100 countries at the COP26 UN Climate Conference in 2021.

The Global Methane Pledge calls for countries to adopt policies that will reduce their total methane emissions by 30% by 2030 compared to 2020 levels. As a result, the EU is drafting a binding 2030 reduction target aimed at cutting direct methane emissions from the oil, fossil gas, and coal sectors, and from biomethane gas once it is injected into the network, as well as calling on EU member states to set national reduction targets.

The EU regulations envisage a complete ban on venting and flaring of methane from drainage stations by 2025 and from ventilation shafts by 2027 while ensuring safety for workers in coal mines. These stringent requirements would also obligate all affected operators to submit a report to authorities detailing the sources and levels of methane emissions for operated assets.

In addition to this reporting, operators covered by the EU and member state regulations must create a leak detection and repair (LDAR) programme for their assets, conduct periodic LDAR surveys, and repair or replace all components found to be leaking as soon as possible. Also, since imports make up more than 80% of the oil and gas consumed in the EU, it is being proposed that importers of coal, oil, and gas will have to demonstrate that the imported fossil energy lives up to the requirements in the regulation.

In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has introduced 40 CFR Part 60, an extensive regulation for offshore and onshore petroleum and natural gas production and transport emissions. Included in that regulation are requirements for reducing harmful air pollution from new and existing oil and natural gas facilities.

A significant part of that regulation directly impacts commonly used wellhead technology. It requires all new and existing pneumatic controllers at production wells and storage facilities to have zero carbon emissions. Additional regulations at the state and provincial level in the US require the replacement of well-gas-driven pneumatic devices and the implementation of automatic pressure management and pilot light monitoring systems.

The industry is global, so regulations formulated in Europe and North America ultimately impact technology and infrastructure decisions in all production and processing regions. The response from oil and gas companies has been positive as they recognise that improving the monitoring and control of GHG emissions in their operations is essential to achieve a net zero carbon future (see Figure 1).

New zero emissions valve technology
A significant source of GHG emissions in upstream production was essentially ‘built in’ to standard operating processes at wellheads and oil and gas separator assemblies. It was common to use the naturally pressurised methane produced by oil and gas wells as the media to actuate pneumatic components on wells and separators.

In the past, this made economic sense: rather than install and maintain electrically powered compressed air systems at these remote sites (where grid power is at a minimum), gas-actuated pneumatic valves offered a simple solution.

However, gas-actuated valves come with an obvious environmental drawback: actuating the valves exhausts the methane into the environment. According to the EPA Greenhouse Gas Inventory, eliminating all gas-actuated pneumatic valves could result in a 25% reduction in all methane emissions related to oil and gas operations.

The oil and gas industry is exploring electrification to replace the gas-actuated valves at the well pad. Replacing these kinds of pneumatics with electrically actuated ones will help achieve the methane emission reduction targets and comply with the EPA regulations.

Leading valve technology companies are now offering solenoid valves that provide simpler and more reliable valve devices with zero methane emissions. Some hybrid solutions use a three-way pilot valve that utilises a generator to send compressed air to an actuator that opens and closes the valve.

Although this approach eliminates methane emissions, it requires multiple components, and there are costs associated with running the compressor. Those costs can accumulate on well pad systems such as two- and three-phase separators and free water knockout drums with multiple valves. In addition, they typically demand more electricity than is available at many sites.

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