Oil and natural gas fields are notorious for leaking or flaring off excess methane, thus creating a staggering amount of lost clean-burning fuel, while significantly contributing to global climate change.
This is no small matter. General Electric (GE) research provides this information concerning lost methane, or field gas:
- 140 Billion Cubic Meters of gas, 5% of the world’s gas production, is flared annually
- 360 million tons of CO2 emitted annually due to the practice of gas flaring
- A 50% cost savings potential exists, using last-mile fueling systems vs. traditional diesel fueling
You should already know about methane. According to the EPA:
Methane (CH4) is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted in the United States from human activities. In 2012, CH4 accounted for about 9% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. Methane is emitted by natural sources such as wetlands, as well as human activities such as leakage from natural gas systems and the raising of livestock. Natural processes in soil and chemical reactions in the atmosphere help remove CH4 from the atmosphere. Methane’s lifetime in the atmosphere is much shorter than carbon dioxide (CO2), but CH4 is more efficient at trapping radiation than CO2. Pound for pound, the comparative impact of CH4 on climate change is over 20 times greater than CO2 over a 100-year period.
Globally, over 60% of total CH4 emissions come from human activities. The gas is emitted from industry, agriculture, and waste management activities.
Solutions are being developed for this problem of lost gases. Breaking Energy reports that “new uses for ‘field gas’ are being implemented that are proving to be highly cost-effective, and highly sought after now that oil prices have fallen and drillers are under enormous pressure to reduce costs everywhere possible.”
To this end, some service providers have rolled out mobile gas compression technologies that allow field gas to be upgraded into compressed natural gas (CNG) to fuel drill rigs and pressure pumps. In these applications the field gas CNG directly replaces diesel fuel, resulting in cleaner emissions across the board as well as cost savings.
Best of all, the field gas CNG replaces diesel fuel. Not only is the diesel stench eliminated, cleaner emissions occur, supported by measurable cost savings.
GE (General Electric) is marketing one solution they call “CNG-in-a-Box” and have partnered with service provider Ferus Natural Gas Fuels who works in the Bakken fields. TRF Energy is another firm providing flare gas recapture services in the Bakken. These business opportunities were initially prompted by the need to meet methane reduction regulations, but were found to be in demand because they help E&P operators save substantial fuel costs in addition to meeting regulations.
Field gas currently costs end users anywhere from $.85 to $1.15 for each diesel-gallon equivalent. This is a significant savings over diesel fuel, even with the current low price for diesel around $2 a gallon. There is also an additional revenue stream from condensate liquids that are sold separately from the field gas, although NGL prices have fallen along with oil during the current cycle.
This short video shows Ferus Natural Gas Fuels deploying the GE CNG-in-a-Box system in rough terrain in the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to mitigate the problem of gas flaring.
The technological advancements that have allowed flare gas capture to work effectively in the harsh and remote terrain in North Dakota have focused around optimizing traditional gas cleanup equipment that strips out condensates, as well as making the equipment portable. The equipment must all be mounted on trailers and easily rigged up and down for transport.
As author Edward Dodge writes, “Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas and excessive methane emissions are a serious problem that need to be addressed. But methane is also an incredibly valuable fuel that is non-toxic and readily used across all energy sectors: heat, power, transportation and heavy industry.”
Here scale is an enormous issue. We are no longer simply talking about how much methane is contained in a cow fart. Remember, GE researchers conclude some 140 billion cubic meters of gas, or 5% of the world’s gas production, is flared annually.
“The obvious solution to mitigating methane emissions is to make every effort to capture those molecules and put them to use as fuel,” writes Dodge. “We can see examples today that this can be a profitable business with benefits for producers, consumers and the environment.”
One thing is certain: the use of fossil fuels will continue for quite some time to come. Changing the world’s existing production delivery system to a renewables-only platform is not going to happen in my lifetime, and probably not in the lifetimes of my children. What can happen are innovative small steps, like what we see here, that support a win-win for all involved, including our climate.
Image Credit via Breaking Energy