There was good news mixed with not-so-good news found in a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The study, conducted by the University of Texas as part of a series organized by the Environmental Defense Fund, found energy companies are having a major impact on the amount of methane emissions escaping from natural gas wells.
But the study also found greater-than-expected leaks from valves and other well-site equipment.
"We appreciate that the study validates the efforts operators have made to improve emission controls and the study further identifies opportunities to do an even better job," commented Ben Shepperd, president of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association. "Everyone wants clean air."
Larry Richards, president and chief executive officer at Hy-Bon Engineering, which includes vapor gas management and vapor recovery equipment among its services, said the results of the study were no surprise to him.
He said he expected the study to find the increased use of "green completions" to reduce emissions from gas wells and greater emissions from well-site equipment.
"Those emissions are limited to a few days in the flowback process," he explained. "That's a lot of volume but a brief period of time. What we see is more volume from the equipment with emissions 24/7." Those emissions, he said, add up as the weeks go by.
Operators, he said, have a financial incentive, and access to the equipment, to capture emissions from storage tanks because those captured volumes can be added to pipelines and generate revenue.
"The big driver in the Permian Basin has been the EPA's new Quad-O regulations," Richards said, which were published in their final form on Aug. 5 and target storage tank emissions. Tank emissions are now capped at six tons of volatile organic compounds a year, which Richards said affects all new tanks installed in the Permian Basin since August of 2011.
"There's been a lot of activity, with companies moving quickly to capture or control emissions with flares or combusters or vapor recovery equipment by April 2014," he said. "There's been more activity in that arena in the last six weeks than the previous three years."
Future Quad-O regulations taking effect in 2014 and 2015 and covering other areas like green completions will present a significant challenge, both economically and technically, he said.
For example, in completing a well, an operator may have three days of emissions but no pipeline infrastructure to move the gas. "It's costly to put in infrastructure for an intermittent stream of gas and you may not even make the well," he said.
Under the right circumstances, he said, those regulations would make economic sense, such as infill drilling projects where the operator is planning to install pipelines. "But in some cases, it's not technically possible or economically sensible."
While the new regulations have been finalized, Richards said there are opportunities to influence those that have not yet taken effect to avoid a one-size-fits-all impact.
"The key for all oil companies," he advised, "is to focus their efforts on capturing gas streams that are the more continuous leaks. That's the biggest volume impact, that's the biggest environmental impact. On the second tier, look at areas with limited duration leaks."
"The reality is," he said, "a lot of those gas streams are flared or used for other on-site purposes because there's not good technical solutions."
The Permian Basin companies using vapor gas management or recovery equipment are getting excellent returns and are 100 percent compliant on emissions regulations.
Source: MyWestTexas.com (Midland Reporter-Telegram)