Midland Reporter-Telegram: Natural gas coalition exceeds methane emission cuts 7 years early

Natural gas coalition exceeds methane emission cuts 7 years early

By Mella McEwen, MRT.com/Midland Reporter-Telegram

Amid the intensifying debate over climate change, the role of fossil fuels and what form energy sources should take, some energy companies are showing they can be part of the solution.

Our Nation’s Energy Future (ONE Future) has 16 members: natural gas produces, transmission and distribution companies, many active in the Permian Basin. The coalition has issued a report saying it far exceeded its goal of 1 percent methane intensity across the natural gas value chain and did so ahead of its 2025 deadline.

In its recently released initial report of methane intensity numbers, the coalition registered a 2017 methane intensity number of 0.552 percent.

“We were surprised we were that good,” Richard Hyde, ONE Future executive director, said in a phone interview from his Houston office.

He said the number was determined using uniform Environmental Protection Agency-approved reporting protocols that were independently reviewed by the National Energy Technology Laboratory and Innovative Environmental Solutions.

Hyde attributed the success to allowing member companies the flexibility to deploy their capital where it would be most effective — whether upgrading and replacing pipeline infrastructure or actively seeking and repairing system leaks.

“The key principal is we’re performance-based,” Hyde said. “Companies can pick and choose the technology that works on their systems. They get results more quickly and get results that are better.”

Currently, ONE Future membership accounts for approximately 10 percent of total natural gas production, 32 percent of natural gas transmission miles and 9 percent of natural gas distribution and spans the value chain, from the wellhead to the burner tip.

Hyde said the coalition doesn’t have specific limits on how many companies can become members, or how high a percentage of production, transmission and distribution are represented in ONE Future.

But as the coalition grows, it will gain critical mass and that will help create momentum for others to join as they see that the performance-based approach successfully drives down methane intensity numbers, he said.

ONE Future was formed in 2014 when eight natural gas companies came together with the goal of implementing a performance-based approach to the management and mitigation of methane emissions. Hyde said the initial goal of 1 percent was based on studies from the Environmental Defense Fund, which utilized 2012 data from the EPA, the most recent available at the time. He said the first year was focused on putting a program in place, and then it doubled in size over the next two years.

“We want everything we do to be science-based. A well-known peer-reviewed study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences entitled, ‘Greater focus needed on methane leakage from natural gas infrastructure’ suggested that in order for natural gas usage to provide immediate greenhouse gas reduction benefits — as compared to any other fossil fuel in any other application — the industry would have to achieve a leak/loss rate of 1 percent or less. While ONE Future members do not unequivocally accept every conclusion of that paper, we believe it is sufficiently robust to serve as a guidepost for our targets,” he said.

Asked if the coalition might set even lower thresholds or even a zero emissions threshold, Hyde said, “Eliminating all emissions would be both technically unfeasible and economically untenable. However, ONE Future believes that targeted investment in abatement technologies today can yield both significant improvements in environmental performance and supply-chain efficiency, which is just good business. We believe that the industry can cost-effectively achieve an average emissions intensity rate of 1 percent, and ONE Future companies have already achieved a rate of 0.552 percent. We will continue to work to lower our emissions and encourage other companies in the natural gas industry to join our coalition to ensure that natural gas remains the fuel of choice.”

ONE Future’s information and reports are shared with environmental groups and the coalition has not received any pushback yet, he said. He said the group publicizes its numbers and may be the only group that reports actual results.

“The key thing we believe in is, transparency is vital. We have our data independently looked at by NETL to make sure we’re on the right track,” he said. “We have to be a credible organization. If people don’t believe our numbers, we’ve missed a golden opportunity to move the ball.”

Another key belief is that natural gas is the foundation fuel for a low-carbon economy, and Hyde said research is being done in ways to break down methane into hydrogen for use as a power source.

“We think natural gas will be around a long time,” he said. “We have to work on methane emissions to be competitive. We have to reduce them as low as we can. We want to go lower.

“There’s a long way to go but we think we’re trending in the right direction.”

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