The industry practice within the petroleum companies has changed in the last two decades. The advancement in technology has accounted for ‘efficient’ extraction and production practices in the setup.
The efficiency refers to the better management of the environment and reduction in the carbon footprint. E&P or ‘Upstream’ companies are developing processes that are environment friendly and generate less waste.
At the backdrop of the improvements that have been made is the ‘Natural Gas STAR program’ of the U.S. EPA. According to a survey, the methane emission from the oil and gas sector accounted for 3.8% of the total greenhouse gas emissions or 624 billion cubic feet (BCF) in the U.S. The E&P sector produces 397 bcf, a value that has been reduced due to remedial measures.
The target areas where things have improved include: Compressors, Dehydrators, Inspection and Maintenance, Pipelines, Pneumatics, Tankers and Valves.
The adoption of the Natural Gas STAR Program has been a good measure. In 2010 alone, the reduction was 94 bcf. One relevant success story is that of Enbridge Energy Partners, which falls in the E&P category. The remedial options it used included leak detection and repair programs. Simply by ardent focus on aerial leak detection, they were able to save 850 million cubic feet of methane in a year.
NxtGen Energy founder Blake Zimmerman believes the E&P sector can continue to take measures to be ‘environmentally responsible’ while also serving the world’s oil demands. A recent area of improvement has been in the tankers category. Using fuel efficient tankers, E&P companies are saving a lot of energy in the transportation end.
So, greener technologies are being practically applied to extraction, shipping and refining purposes. By decreasing air emissions and fuel consumption, the carbon footprint of ‘upstream’ companies is being reduced.
One example of how green technology has been used in the E&P sector is the replacing of gas starters with air or nitrogen. Petroleum companies need small gas expansion turbine motor starters to initiate internal combustion engines. Normally, natural gas is used in the process, which is environmentally taxing. Instead, companies are now using compressed air or nitrogen, which reduces methane and volatile organic compounds emissions.
Another major avenue of improvement has been in the pneumatic devices area. These devices are one of largest sources of vented methane emissions from the petroleum industry. Green technology has allowed for reduction in emissions by using substitute devices (substitute devices are low-bleed and retrofitted).
The advantages are twofold. First, emissions are reduced and secondly, their maintenance costs are low. It has been reported that the E&P companies have saved $254.8 million worth of gas using low bleed pneumatic devices.
Another improvement worth mentioning is in the production process. When crude oil is produced, it is transferred to a fixed roof storage tank. In order to prevent the mixture from exploding, natural gas is added. After the production process ends, the gas is released, increasing the emission. However, an ideal alternate has been created by using carbon dioxide rich gas whose emissions can be controlled, and provides better oil recovery.
In addition to the steps mentioned above, there are other ‘green’ controls being opted by the E&P sector. The Natural Gas STAR program is a great initiative that is helping the petroleum sector reduce its emissions to a great extent.