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Williams leverages blockchain, AI tech to track emissions levels in new partnership


Context Labs selected to track carbon intensity

Williams to deploy monitoring tech across entire footprint

  • Author
  • Brandon Mulder    Kelsey Hallahan
  • Editor
  • Richard Rubin
  • Commodity
  • Electric Power Energy Transition LNG Natural Gas Petrochemicals

Williams has selected data technology company Context Labs to track the carbon intensity levels of the natural gas flowing through Williams' midstream network, an agreement that will enable Williams to offer a suite of gas products with differentiated emission levels, the companies said March 21.

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The agreement initiates the first phase of the project, in which Williams will deploy emissions monitoring technologies across its Transco network – the nation's largest natural gas interstate pipeline system transporting about 20 Bcf/d of natural gas.

The monitoring will capture data from 150,000 different sources up and down the gas value chain. Sensor data, satellite monitoring data, regulatory data, third-party data and others can all be integrated to create what Context Labs describes as data fabric. That data fabric can then be analyzed through machine learning and artificial intelligence to identify the cleanest pathways through its immense network.

Additionally, after data is captured and processed into asset-grade analytics, it's cryptographically secured on the blockchain, making the climate rating of gas transparent and auditable.

"Representing emissions is a complex task and requires many data sources," said Dan Harple, founder and CEO of Context Labs. "We ingest all sorts of data, which we then combine to give what we believe is a deeper contextual and realistic view of what the emissions are in the supply chain."

Williams plans to deploy monitoring technology across its entire footprint within the next two years, then spend subsequent years adding more sources to its data feed to continuously improve resolution.

Williams' Senior Vice President Chad Zamarin compares his company's gas system to an interstate highway, with each lane having a different emissions profile. While some customers might be interested in natural gas that has travelled down a lane associated with high emissions, others might be interested in gas that has traveled along a cleaner pathway. Some lanes might even include a carbon reduction project that can provide offsets to its carbon intensity levels.

"Not every customer is going to be interested in the exact same flavor, and that's why the technology is being developed to allow us to deliver different profiles," Zamarin said. "But I expect over time that the customers that want more and more of the lowest carbon intensity products delivered is just going to increase."

That growing interest in low-carbon gas delivery was illustrated in 2020, when the French power company Engie canceled a major US shale gas import deal with NextDecade. Engie decided to not proceed with the deal after the French government and environmentalists pressured the company to reject it as questions were raised over the carbon footprint of US shale gas and how they might affect France's climate goals.

Williams has since announced ambitions to build a "wellhead to water" low carbon gas corridor, in which it will move differentiated gas to Gulf Coast LNG exporters keen on sourcing lower emissions feedgas.

"The idea is from wellhead to water have the capability to – with credibility and accuracy – measure, report and drive down the emissions profile of that entire value chain," Zamarin said.

Market design

Williams' partnership with Context Labs puts the company firmly on one side of an unresolved debate in the nascent certified gas space: market design.

It remains to be seen whether certified gas will ultimately be traded as physical molecules, tracked from production through to end users, or as certificates that unbundle the low carbon attribute from the physical production, similar to a Renewable Energy Certificate in the electricity sector.

By providing a blockchain-backed pathway for certified gas to travel through the gathering, processing, and transportation steps, Williams offers end users the possibility of buying the actual molecules undergoing certification. This could prove to be particularly appealing in the Haynesville, which is located in relative proximity to existing and proposed LNG export projects along the Gulf Coast. For natural gas certified in basins that require more complex routes to exporters, establishing a chain of custody could prove more complicated.

As of March 21, around 45% of Haynesville gas production is set to be certified by the end of 2022, according to data collected by S&P Global.

The technology that Context Labs brings to the market – allowing gas to be traded as physical molecules – could one day make certificate trading obsolete, Harple said.

"Technology can be disruptive, and I think one of the things we're looking at here is the Moore's Law-ification of energy delivery," he said. "The things we're doing now you couldn't have done five years ago. The cloud technology has evolved, the processing technology has evolved, the sensor technology is under massive Moore's Law pressure. So what it means is that a leading company like Williams can deploy real-time sensing technology much faster than before. The price curve is coming down."