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Gas industry, academics home in on strategies to curb sector emissions

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Gas industry, academics home in on strategies to curb sector emissions

Facing rising concerns over climate change, gas industry observers and representatives in recent days have come out with forward-looking research aimed at combating greenhouse gas emissions related to the oil and gas sectors.

Rather than trying to pin down and capture methane emissions leaking into the atmosphere because of its potent warming potential, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology posited in a research paper that policymakers can ignore methane reduction efforts and instead invest in renewables to meet climate change goals more efficiently.

The researchers said that supercharging investments in renewables to replace coal generation will have a greater long-term carbon dioxide reduction effect because it avoids the potential of locking in natural gas use for a longer period. Policies that favor carbon-free power can help the U.S. meet 2030 carbon dioxide emissions reduction targets even though gas would still be a significant part of the energy mix.

The difficulty in cutting methane emissions is there is very little agreement on how much methane is being emitted, where it is leaking from, and how to measure any reductions, the paper said. Policymakers will need to choose between further investments in methane reduction — finding and plugging leaks in the gas system from the wellhead through pipelines to homes and power plants — or in renewable systems, to meet climate change goals, the authors said.

Taking another tack on emissions reduction opportunities was a study released by the American Gas Foundation. Adopting new natural gas technologies for home heating could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the residential sector, the paper said. The study found that the U.S. could cut greenhouse gas emissions from homes by 24% to 40% through 2050 by implementing policies that encourage the use of advanced space heating and water heating systems.

In a scenario where advanced gas heating technology achieves modest market penetration, U.S. residential carbon dioxide emissions could fall by 60 million tonnes per annum by 2050, or a 24% drop from the 2020 baseline. Emissions could fall by 101 mtpa, a 40% reduction, over the same period assuming more robust adoption.

A separate Dec. 18 American Gas Foundation study conducted by ICF International found that the broader use of renewable natural gas, or RNG, could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by between 101 million and 235 million tonnes by 2040. RNG is pipeline-quality gas that has not been extracted as a fossil fuel and can include methane that has been processed from organic materials such as food, agriculture and waste.

The consulting firm estimated that in a so-called high resource potential scenario, about 3,780 trillion Btu of RNG could be produced yearly for pipeline injection by 2040 at a price of between $7/MMBtu and $20/MMBtu and representing a cost of $55/ton to $300/ton of greenhouse emissions reduced.

Utility company National Grid USA welcomed the study in a Dec. 19 news release, noting that its gas utility in New York is partnering with New York City to develop a project to convert a wastewater treatment plant into a possible energy source that can produce RNG.

Farther upstream, integrated oil and gas company Suncor Energy Inc. has been working to reduce its corporate emissions. The company has recently completed a coast-to-coast network of electric vehicle charging stations as Canada's biggest oil producer by volume burnishes its climate change-mitigation credentials.

Suncor's steps towards reducing its emissions also include retrofitting its Base Plant in Fort McMurray, Alberta, one of the world's largest oil sands facilities, with natural gas-fired steam generators that will co-generate as much as 800 MW for the provincial power grid. The facility was previously fueled by petroleum coke, a byproduct of oil processing.

"We want to be part of the total solution to meet energy demand and reduce the carbon footprint of the transportation system," Suncor CEO Mark Little said in the statement.