The risk of regulatory non-compliance and the rise of certified gas are making the management of greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions a strategic concern for decision-makers. This increased focus is creating a drive to better detect, measure and reduce emissions across operating sites.

Detect, measure and reduce. Those are three simple sounding steps energy companies are taking to reduce their GHG emissions. Detect the leak by monitoring the site. Measure the size of the leak, type of gas and location, then take the necessary steps to reduce or eliminate the problem. 

It is relatively easy to detect a gas like methane, and there are a variety of technology options to do so. Solutions like optimal gas imaging (OGI) cameras, lasers and aerial surveys provide accurate detection of leaks, but they can be cost-prohibitive, resulting in companies limiting surveys to just a few times per year.

Intermittent site surveys are effective at identifying emissions occurring now, but struggle to account for emissions released before or after the survey was conducted. Site emissions can fluctuate greatly, based on operational changes or even the season, so operators relying on intermittent surveys can be left with huge gaps in data. A fugitive leak that occurs in between surveys could be left undiscovered for long periods of time, resulting in increased emissions and lost product.

Continuous monitoring 

Continuous monitoring is helping to solve these problems. Fixed sensors deployed around a site are giving operators real-time emissions data 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. This enables them to detect emissions immediately and prioritize repairs for the largest emitting equipment or sites.

Continuous monitoring is not a new concept. The industry has known for a while that effectively deployed continuous monitoring systems are an effective way to detect the presence of methane leaks over time. However, cost realities, weather concerns, connectivity and other factors previously made effective continuous monitoring both financially and operationally unviable.

New technology is changing all of that, with durable, cost-effective and highly accurate systems that can be deployed in all types of environmental situations.

Continuous monitoring systems capture far more data than other technologies, and it’s this new information presented in intuitive dashboards that has emissions teams most excited. This is due to the quantification and localization capabilities that this wealth of data creates.

Operating sites are typically venting gases of some sort on a regular basis which makes it difficult for emissions managers to deduce the quantity of leaking gas, where the leak originated, and whether that leak was expected or an unintended event. Modern computing is capable of quickly analyzing the wealth of data that continuous monitoring produces, correlating detection readings over time with equipment locations, environmental conditions and wind measurements, to make accurate, real-time inferences of leak quantities and sources.

Continuous monitoring is giving operators a better view into their emissions, enabling faster identification of leaks and resulting in a significant drop-in operational response time. The technology is also helping operators find issues related to vented emissions, as a Houston-based operator recently discovered.

Industry success in continuous monitoring

A large U.S. energy company experienced a considerable decrease in methane emissions at several of its producing sites after adopting modern continuous monitoring technology. Furthermore, the corrective and preventative actions taken by the operator since then are also resulting in significant reductions of carbon monoxide (CO) emissions.

In a recent presentation, the company described elevated levels of both methane and CO emissions that were detected by continuous monitoring devices on one of their sites.

After observing the correlated emissions, the company implemented a site-rate notification system for events exceeding their leak rate threshold. Each time this threshold was exceeded they received a live notification containing the maximum CO concentration of the leak and its likely location.

Over two weeks, the operator received 15 notifications of elevated CO concentrations which were localized to separators on the site. The equipment was inspected using OGI cameras and when no fugitive leaks were found, they quickly deduced the root cause of the issue—incomplete combustion.

Optimizing the burner system resulted in an estimated 90% reduction of methane emissions at the site, while CO emissions were reduced to expected levels and virtually eliminated. Furthermore, the number of warning notifications received for the two weeks following the optimization was reduced to zero, resulting in substantial time savings for the company.

This optimization process is now replicated at other sites and is incorporated into a new maintenance program that is scaling their continuous monitoring deployment across all local operations.

This success story is just one example of how continuous monitoring is empowering a new, proactive approach to emissions reduction.

The industry is well on its way toward meeting global GHG reduction targets, and continuous monitoring technology will help ensure that operators meet those targets, without breaking the bank.

Hart Energy June 2022 - Energy ESG Continuous Methane Monitoring - Qube Technologies CEO Alex MacGregor headshotAbout the author: Alex MacGregor is co-founder and CEO of Qube Technologies. MacGregor has worked as a professional engineer in the oil and gas industry for over 10 years, including eight years in energy technology. He was formerly the Canadian sales and distribution manager for Ambyint and previously worked as a consultant for Aucerna in their Canadian, Australian, and US offices. He holds a Bachelor of Applied Science in Geological Engineering from the University of British Columbia.