Quantifying the impact of methane emissions in Alberta upstream oil and gas

The original hypothesis of this project was borne out of curiosity around methane emissions in Alberta.  The provincial government wants to reduce methane emissions by 45% in upstream oil and gas within the next nine years.  Methane has 25x more impact on climate then Co2, it’s viewed as the least costly way to reduce emissions.  So we wanted to understand what operators, facilities, locations, and production those emissions are associated with.

This analysis takes a macroeconomic view of the effect of flaring across the province, and attempts to identify the operators and facilities where capital will need to be spent to meet regulatory constraints.

First let’s define the problem a little bit more.  Some of those emissions come from venting, where the battery that the oil well is attached to vents methane into the atmosphere, either because it hasn’t been designed to vent it, or because the facility has to vent it due to an emergency.  Older facilities may have to vent more, depending on how they were built.  The majority of these vented emissions occur on oil wells, not gas wells, since these facilities are typically not designed to deal with large amounts of gas.  Other emissions will be fugitive emissions from those facilities.  The more infrastructure, the more likely there will be fugitive emissions.

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) has released detailed information on venting and flaring emissions, but it’s somewhat opaque as to the capital cost on industry.  Figures such as the following give us an idea of what type of batteries these emissions are coming from, but no information about the volumes produced, and the operators impacted.

We try and dissect this problem in asking several questions to get to the root of the problem. Note that some of these interactive graphics can made fullscreen, please select the arrows in the bottom right of the screen to fullscreen and interact with them.

Emission distribution – Highest emitters, or frequently low emitters?

Are wells that had a large emission event likely to be the largest contributors?  Or are there many smaller facilities that emit consistently smaller amounts?  In other words, would it be better to focus on the single larger emitters, or many smaller emitters.  This has massive implications for cost, as fewer facilities emitting more would reduce the cost of addressing the problem.

The above interactive graphic shows that most material emissions occur with facilities that emit more than 1 E3M3 / day.  If you exclude emission categories 1, and 2, there are 212 facilities that are considered high emitters that will have their impacts more greatly affected by the incoming legislation.  Selecting facilities that emit less than 0.6 E3M3/day shows that there are a lot of facilities (13,235 in the last four years) that are relatively low emitting.  Understanding this distribution helps us understand how widespread the capital implications of this legislation might be.  Facilities that have had to vent due to some extraordinary situation account for the large spikes in the blue line on the right.  In other words, 1.47% of facilities contribute most of the methane emissions in the province.

Continue to Part 2