As oil and gas companies look for ways to tame methane emissions from operations and strengthen existing programs, some are turning to clean dry air to eliminate methane venting.

The technology aims at natural gas-powered pneumatic devices, which have been identified as one of the biggest sources of vented emissions from the oil and gas industry, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Pneumatic devices are typically powered by pressurized natural gas to operate valves or control pressure, liquid flow, temperature or other processes.

Ory Zik
Qnergy CEO Ory Zik. (Source: Qnergy)

“It’s very easy to control the flow of gas, separate gas from water, from oil, with those pneumatic valves. The problem is that every time a valve opens, some methane is emitted,” Qnergy CEO Ory Zik told Hart Energy. “That’s on the pneumatic devices side. On the vented side, there is another big deal, which is water tanks [on gas fields]... They accumulate methane vapor, and this methane vapor, every time it’s over pressured is emitted through the air.”

The EPA estimates the oil and gas industry is responsible for 30% of U.S. methane emissions, or about 240 MMmt of CO2 equivalent emissions in 2021. To combat emissions, the EPA announced a final rule in December 2023, which had been in the works since President Joe Biden took office, targeting the so-called “super pollutant.”

The rule phases in a requirement to eliminate routine flaring of natural gas produced by new oil wells, establishes standards for emissions reductions from high-emitting equipment and mandates comprehensive monitoring of methane leaks from well sites and compressor stations, among other requirements. It also mandates conversion of pneumatic controllers to zero-emitting technologies and the elimination of associated gas venting.

With cost-effective and innovative technologies, the EPA said the rule could prevent an estimated 58 million tons of methane emissions from 2024 to 2038, the equivalent of 1.5 billion metric tons of CO2.

Managing methane

Since the final methane rule was released, Zik said Qnergy has seen increasing interest in some states in its technology using compressed air pneumatics, instead of natural gas, in combination with grid power or its PowerGen generators.

Air venting
(Source: Qnergy)

“The compressor package does something very simple. It takes electricity to compress air and replace natural gas as a source of pressure with compressed air. So now instead of having a natural gas as a source of pressure and vent methane, you vent clean, dry air,” Zik said. “The site is cleaner. There’s no methane venting. It’s safer because there’s no methane vapor in the air. And, it’s very affordable. People are now deploying them in massive amounts.”

Increased interest in the technology post-final methane rule has varied by state, he said. The EPA’s rule establishes guidelines for states for enforcement. In the rule’s new subpart OOOOc, states may adopt the standards set in the guidelines for an existing source or develop their own. Subparts OOOOa and OOOOb regard new activities, sites and installations.

“States have about five years to implement the OOOOc for existing installations. So, as you can imagine, Texas is taking its time and Colorado and New Mexico are jumping all over it,” Zik said.

Some smaller companies are awaiting to see how regulations will be implemented at the state level. And, natural gas prices are playing a role.

“We see less activity than was expected because of the low gas prices of about $1.50 per MMBtu. People are just slowing down,” Zik said. “So, we expect as it will roll up to $2, $2.50, $3 per million BTU, those activities that fall under OOOOb will pick up.”

However, some bigger oil companies have jumped into action.

TotalEnergies is among the companies using the technology, as part of Qnergy’s corporate program geared toward companies needing large installations.

“They ordered about 100 units out of about 400 [units] that are required in their activity in the Barnett. And then they found out that, using these units, they eliminated immediately nearly 100%, or 98%, of their emissions,” Zik said. “So, they turned and ordered the rest of these 300 units. The deployment of this entire project is about to end in two weeks.”

Bigger ambitions

Qnergy has also taken its PowerGen technology to landfills, capturing methane and transforming it into electricity. The company has a pilot project underway in Utah and hopes to carry out similar projects capturing methane at hundreds of landfills in the U.S.

“The beauty of this model is that these 10,000 closed landfills are now a liability from the environmental standpoint and from the financial standpoint for the owner,” Zik said. “They need to measure the emissions and they need to deal with it and that costs money. So, we turn this liability into an asset. Instead of costing you money, we eliminate the pollution and we share the revenue.”

The methane abatement can also qualify for carbon credits.

With the Utah pilot project, carbon credits have been registered with the American Carbon Registry, the generator has been tested and the plant is being erected, Zik said.

Collecting methane in pipes for conversion into electricity can also be carried out at dairy farms, particularly at those sites where renewable natural gas production is not economic, he added.

“We have a pilot that we’re running in Mexico, and probably in 2025 we will start deployment of this solution,” Zik said. “People overlook the fact the methane is a distributed problem that needs a distributed solution. Our solution is very small, relatively, and it can be deployed all over the country in a distributed fashion.”

air control schematic
Schematic of typical instrument air control system (Source: EPA)