As the climate change debate continues among political pundits, environmentalists and others, some of the oil and gas industry’s biggest players are working to further lower methane emissions.

BP, Eni, ExxonMobil, Repsol, Shell, Statoil, Total and Wintershall have teamed up for a new emissions reduction initiative as natural gas takes on a bigger piece of the world’s energy mix. The steps are being taken as nearly 200 nations undertake their own initiatives, striving to keep world temperatures from rising as part of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Natural gas demand is expected to rise by 45% by 2040, according to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) World Energy Outlook; however, a primary component on the natural resource is methane, a potent greenhouse gas that is emitted during natural gas production and transport.

“Numerous studies have shown the importance of quickly reducing methane emissions if we’re to meet growing energy demand and multiple environmental goals,” Mark Radka, head of UN Environment’s Energy and Climate Branch, said in Nov. 22 news release issue by Shell. “The Guiding Principles provide an excellent framework for doing so across the entire natural gas value chain, particularly if they’re linked to reporting on the emissions reductions achieved.”

The companies worked with the Environmental Defense Fund, IEA, International Gas Union, Oil and Gas Climate Initiative Climate Investments, Rocky Mountain Institute, Sustainable Gas Institute, Energy and Resource Institute and United Nations Environment to create the Guiding Principles document. They aim to:

  • Reduce methane emissions at existing operated assets, prioritizing higher-emitting operations, while doing the same for new projects. This includes implementing leak detection and repair programs, improving combustion efficiency, developing technologies and putting in place monitoring and emission reduction practices as well as financial support for new technologies;
  • Advance strong performance across gas value chains by engaging with others upstream players as well as midstream and downstream companies to pursue studies on the topic; and
  • Improve the accuracy of methane emissions data by collecting methodologies and supporting research that “improves the accuracy of the quantification of methane emissions and make progress toward verifiable reductions,” according to the document.

The companies will also:

  • Advocate for sound methane emissions policies and regulations, particularly those that “incentivize early action, drive performance improvements, facilitate proper enforcement and support flexibility and innovation;” and
  • Increase transparency by providing reports with information on methane emissions, progress and challenges, working toward standardization of external methane reporting.

Others are encouraged to participate in the initiative and they should do so.

The industry has already made strides in reducing methane emissions.  In the U.S., for example, such emissions from the natural gas industry have dropped more than 18% between 1990 and 2015, according to the American Petroleum Institute. The decline came even as production increased. Companies have put in place leak detection and repair programs and utilize green completions to minimize releasing methane among other practices.

But it is a good thing that companies are not resting on their laurels. The world’s appetite for energy, especially natural gas, is increasing. Without continued attention to emission reductions the world’s temperatures will continue to increase, negatively impacting the environment.

Velda Addison can be reached at vaddison@hartenergy.com.