Panel Examines Methane Regulations and Opportunities
Three experts from different sectors discussed the challenges of methane and regulation at the first panel session of the 2017 SPE Health, Safety, Security, Environment, and Social Responsibility Conference—North America in New Orleans.
Mark Boling, executive vice president of Southwestern Energy; Ramesh Narasimhan, a partner with Environmental Resources Management; and Hillary Hull, a senior research analyst with the Environmental Defense Fund, gathered on stage to present their perspectives on “Methane and Other Greenhouse Gases: What Do We Do Now?”
As moderator Brian Boyer pointed out at the beginning of the session, methane is not only a pollutant, it is also a product. Limiting fugitive emissions, therefore, makes not only environmental sense but also economic sense.
Hull’s talk examined the importance of research in gaining “a foundational understanding of methane emissions in oil and gas,” which is necessary to address the issue. And she pointed out that the 80/20 rule applies to methane emissions; 80% of the emissions come from 20% of sources. Many of those sources are what are known as super-emitters. Focusing on the super-emitters, she said, can have a significant effect on reducing methane releases.
A frequent theme of the talk was the uncertain regulatory environment brought about by the new US presidential administration. Narasimhan gave the example that, when the Trump administration took over from the Obama administration, the US Environmental Protection Agency was set to expand source performance standards from applying only to new or modified facilities to existing facilities. The new administration has put a halt to that.
Narasimhan said that, despite regulatory uncertainty, opportunities exist for companies looking at the issue of methane. These opportunities, he said, include chances for reduced loss of product and a boost in brand perception with stakeholders and the public. Controlling methane release also will have the added effects of reducing the release of other traditional pollutants, such as other greenhouse gases and particulate matter, and meeting additional regulations.
Narasimhan said that working to control methane also will present the opportunity of innovation, a claim reiterated by Boling.
Boling said he thought that regulation was not a solution to the problem of methane. “This will be solved by innovation, not regulation,” he said. “It’s an issue that can be solved, and it will be solved with science and innovation. And that’s what we plan to do.”