Earthworks, Pembina Institute, Clean Air Task Force and David Suzuki Foundation

 

VANCOUVER —  Images taken with high-tech equipment of leaking methane pollution from gas wells in Montney Basin in northeast British Columbia show the need for stronger regulations for the oil and gas industry.  B.C. plans to finalize methane regulations in 2019.

In December, the non-profit organization Earthworks and the Pembina Institute used optical gas imaging cameras to document methane leaking from polluting gas wells and other facilities. Methane is a greenhouse gas that traps 84 times as much heat as carbon dioxide. It is invisible to the human eye but responsible for 25 per cent of already observed changes to Earth’s climate, according to scientists.

“These images are strong visual statements about the damage leaking methane is having on our climate and on people’s health,” Earthworks certified optical gas imaging thermographer Pete Dronkers said.

The images of leaking methane come in the wake of the David Suzuki Foundation’s peer-reviewed research showing methane pollution from B.C.’s oil and gas industry is much higher than reported. About 47 per cent of active oil and gas wells in the study area were found to emit methane-rich plumes.

“Oil and gas operations, including those that will supply future LNG projects, release methane pollution into the atmosphere through intentional venting and unintentional leaks. B.C.’s draft regulations do not address the full scale of the province’s methane pollution problem,” Pembina Institute analyst Jan Gorski said.

To be credible and on par with other jurisdictions, the regulations under development should include more frequent site inspections of oil and gas operations and stronger policies to address intentional methane venting.

“With the release of the CleanBC climate plan this month, the government re-energized its global leadership on climate change.  We trust that B.C. will apply that same ambition and strengthen the draft methane pollution framework to ensure industry is a responsible partner in the province’s climate plan,” David Suzuki Foundation science and policy director Ian Bruce said.

Although there are strong elements to reduce reported and vented emissions, the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission’s draft regulatory framework would exempt 93 per cent of sites from frequent leak detection and repair and 35 per cent of sites from modern instrument-based inspection.

“In the U.S where stricter methane regulations are in place, industry is thriving. B.C. needs to bring its industry up to par with North American best practices,” Clean Air Task Force senior climate policy advisor Jonathan Banks said. “B.C. cannot afford to overlook these harmful emissions if the province wants to meet its legislated climate targets, especially considering how cheap and easy it is to solve this problem. Inspections based on looking for and smelling an invisible, odourless gas just don’t cut it.”

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Video of methane gas leaking from gas wells: https://youtu.be/mYV1TTOEofk

Earthworks is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting communities and the environment from the adverse impacts of mineral and energy development while promoting sustainable solutions. Through its Community Empowerment Project, Earthworks works with communities to protect their health and the climate by making visible normally invisible air pollution from oil and gas facilities.

The David Suzuki Foundation is a leading Canadian environmental non-profit organization that collaborates with people in Canada, including government and businesses, to conserve the environment and find solutions that will create a sustainable Canada through evidence-based research, public engagement and policy work. It operates in English and French, with offices in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.

The Pembina Institute is a national non-partisan think tank that advocates for strong, effective policies to support Canada’s clean energy transition. It employs multifaceted and highly collaborative approaches to change. Producing credible, evidence-based research and analysis, it consults directly with organizations to design and implement clean energy solutions, and convenes diverse sets of stakeholders to identify and move toward common solutions.

Clean Air Task Force is a non-profit environmental organization with offices across the U.S. and in China. It works to help safeguard against the worst impacts of climate change by catalyzing the rapid global development and deployment of low-carbon energy and other climate-protecting technologies through research and analysis, public advocacy leadership and partnership with the private sector.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Hilary Lewis, Earthworks, 202-887-1872 ext. 101, hlewis@earthworksaction.org

Ian Bruce, David Suzuki Foundation, 604-306-5095

Stephen Hui, Pembina Institute, 778-987-7654, stephenh@pembina.org

Jonathan Banks, Clean Air Task Force, 207-607-0606, jbanks@catf.us

 

Background

B.C.’s methane emissions regulations

B.C. is developing regulations to reduce fugitive methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. These are intended to meet or exceed the 40 to 45 per cent emissions reduction goal by 2025 and contribute to meeting B.C.’s climate target.

Comments on the Draft B.C. Methane Regulations: https://davidsuzuki.org/science-learning-centre-article/comments-on-the-draft-b-c-methane-regulations/

Recent science suggests B.C.’s methane emissions are at least two times higher than estimates presented by government and industry, making the need for effective regulations even greater.[1]

Peer-reviewed research from across Canada and the U.S., including a synthesis of 35 U.S. peer-reviewed studies, supports the finding that oil and gas methane emissions are consistently underreported.

Peer-reviewed research from many North American oil and gas producing–areas show that leaks and improper emissions are a critical source of avoidable methane pollution.[2] Programs requiring frequent leak detection and repair inspections are the only way to effectively address these problems, and are key aspects of rules in place in leading jurisdictions across North America.

B.C.’s proposed leak detection and repair rules fall far short of programs in place elsewhere.  Only seven per cent of B.C. oil and gas sites would undergo frequent (three times per year), thorough inspections. At 35 per cent of sites, operators only need to “screen” the site for leaks without instruments. Methane is invisible and odourless, so these “screenings” don’t address this harmful pollution in any meaningful way.

Methane is more than 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas over 20 years and is responsible for one-quarter of the already observed changes to Earth’s climate. Reducing methane emissions provides our best chance of addressing climate change quickly.

Several U.S. studies suggest that when used to generate electricity, natural gas GHG emission intensity could be closer to coal when all emissions are accounted for, particularly the unreported methane pollution leaked and vented during natural gas operations.[3]

Cutting fugitive methane emissions is one of the cheapest things B.C. can do to tackle climate change. The International Energy Agency has found that up to half of global oil and gas methane emissions can be eliminated at no net cost.[4]

B.C. is pushing for liquid natural gas export that could greatly expand gas fracking. For LNG to meet lower life cycle emissions than the fossil fuels it might replace, the fugitive methane problem must be addressed.

Best practices for methane regulations are demonstrated in jurisdictions such as Colorado and California, present in Canada’ national regulatory framework and proposed in Mexico’s.[5]

Effective fugitive methane regulations:

  • Require frequent (three or four times per year) leak detection and repair
  • Offer incentives for operators to implement continuous monitoring
  • Reduce and eliminate intentional methane venting
  • Prioritize gas capture and utilization over destruction (i.e., flaring)
  • Require inherently non-emitting equipment where possible
  • Require collection and recovery of gas so it can be used instead of dumped into the air
  • Require regular replacement of parts known to vent excessively when worn, such as compressor seals

[1] “Atherton, E., Risk, D., Fougère, C., Lavoie, M., Marshall, A., Werring, J., Williams, J. P., and Minions, C. (2017) “Mobile measurement of methane emissions from natural gas developments in northeastern British Columbia.” Canada, Atmos. Chem. Phys., 17, 12405-12420 https://www.atmos-chem-phys.net/17/12405/2017/

[2] Alvarez, R. A., Zavala-Araiza, D., Lyon, D. R., Allen, D. T., Barkley, Z. R., Brandt, A. R., … Hamburg, S. P. (2018). “Assessment of methane emissions from the U.S. oil and gas supply chain.” Science, 361(6398), 186–188. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204

[3] Alvarez, R. A., S., Pacala, J., Winebrake, W., Chameides, S., Hamburg (2012). “Methane leakage from natural gas infrastructure.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 109 (17) 6435-6440; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1202407109 http://www.pnas.org/content/109/17/6435;

Alvarez, R. A., Zavala-Araiza, D., Lyon, D. R., Allen, D. T., Barkley, Z. R., Brandt, A. R., … Hamburg, S. P. (2018). “Assessment of methane emissions from the U.S. oil and gas supply chain.” Science, 361(6398), 186–188. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204

Note: The 2018 study found a leakage rate of 2.3 per cent across the supply chain for U.S. natural gas production. The 2012 study reports that with a leakage rate around three per cent, the warming effects of electrical generation with natural gas approach those of electrical generation with coal.

[4] https://www.iea.org/newsroom/news/2017/october/commentary-the-environmental-case-for-natural-gas.html

[5] https://davidsuzuki.org/science-learning-centre-article/regulatory-best-practices-for-vented-and-leaked-methane-emissions-from-upstream-oil-and-gas-operations/