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article imageAlberta oil and gas methane emissions grossly under-reported

By Karen Graham     Mar 22, 2018 in Technology
Alberta - A new, peer-reviewed scientific study shows that oil and gas methane emissions were 15 times higher than what the industry reported in the Red Deer production area in Alberta.
This latest study on methane emissions in the oil and gas industry in Alberta comes at a time when Ottawa and Alberta are both preparing regulations, and the two governments must determine which ones will apply to the oil and gas producers in the province.
To add to the problem, the Globe and Mail is reporting that Premier Rachel Notley doesn't really want to adopt any methane rules for fear this would provoke an outcry from the already embattled petroleum industry.
Measurement regions of interest near the cities of Lloydminster and Red Deer in Alberta.
Measurement regions of interest near the cities of Lloydminster and Red Deer in Alberta.
Environmental Science & Technology
Documenting higher methane emissions
The new paper, “Methane Emissions from oil and gas production sites in Alberta, Canada” was published in Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene on March 22, 2018, and complements the study published in October 2017, and another recently published paper led by Aerodyne Research that measured methane emissions at Cold Heavy Oil Production with Sands sites.
Basically, all the studies, along with research from the David Suzuki Foundation, show very clearly that measured emissions are much higher than the emission figures being reported to the Alberta Energy Regulator.
The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), which has worked with the governments of Canada and the U.S. on formulating methane regulations, says, "On average, measured gas wells wasted 3 percent of the gas they produce – a much larger leak rate than industry reports."
Methane monitoring pilot at Shell Canada s shale gas sites near Rocky Mountain House in Alberta  Can...
Methane monitoring pilot at Shell Canada's shale gas sites near Rocky Mountain House in Alberta, Canada.
Shell Canada
Canadian oil and gas production sites were also shown to have a methane problem as bad as the United States. “The more we measure, the more clearly we see that reported emissions severely underestimate the extent of the methane problem,” said Dr. Daniel Zavala-Araiza, lead author and international scientist with Environmental Defense Fund.
“Empirical measurements help improve our understanding of the patterns and characteristics of oil and gas methane emissions and are useful input for making methane mitigation regulations more effective.”
Regular inspection is 'overly-burdensome'
We have to look at the Ottawa regulations, due out in a few weeks. They require companies to inspect their field equipment three times a year, starting in 2020, and to repair leaky equipment and take other measures to cut methane emissions by 2023. Petroleum producers have already gotten Ottawa to delay its proposed implementation by two years.
On the other hand, Alberta's regulations give more leeway to the petroleum industry. The New Democratic Party government wants companies to focus on where they expect to find problems, rather than bother with expensive inspections. They argue their rules should prevail. But in order to cede jurisdiction in that way, Ottawa requires Alberta's regulations to be equivalent in scope to the federal one.
North Dakota: Flaring of methane gas out of the Bakken Formation.
North Dakota: Flaring of methane gas out of the Bakken Formation.
Joshua Doubek (CC BY-SA 3.0)
The federal government has set a target of reducing emissions of methane by between 40 to 45 percent of 2012 levels by 2025, as part of the Paris climate accord, which Canada ratified in 2016. Canada's Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, in acknowledging that methane emissions are under-reported, responded to the new study.
"We have designed our regulations with this in mind: if the emissions are actually higher than current estimates suggest, then the regulations would have proportionately more impact," Ms. McKenna's press secretary, Caroline Theriault, said in an e-mail.
Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), vice-president, Terry Abel said the petroleum industry is ready to work with the government in implementing new regulations that are both flexible and effective. But he also says that implementing Ottawa's approach would cost $1.5-billion over the next five years, while Alberta's model would cost half that amount.
In other words, CAPP argues for a "site-based" approach, rather than being forced to repair every leak. The EDF argues its study provides strong evidence that CAPP's approach would not be effective in reducing emissions.
"This data shows that CAPP's approach would basically be a get-out-of-jail-free card for operators," EDF's director of international affairs, Drew Nelson, said in an interview. "How can you use CAPP's approach when the reporting doesn't tell what emissions are at a given site in a way you have any real confidence in?"
More about Alberta, methane emissions, selfreported results, measured vs reported data, Science
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