Methane Emission Reduction - Lowering Leaks from Operations

10-25-2021 09:44 AM
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By Tom DeWitte and Tom Coolidge

The natural gas industry’s drive to a lower or net zero carbon footprint is focused on actions that generally can be organized in three groups: (1) reducing methane emissions from operations, (2) reducing methane emissions from customer consumption, and (3) embracing new sources and uses of alternative lower carbon fuels.

This blog focuses on a key activity central to reducing methane emissions from operations – finding and fixing leaks.

Managing methane emissions is without a doubt as critical a set of tasks as any every natural gas pipe organization performs.  For the owners and operators of the pipe networks which transport this critical energy source, managing methane emissions starts with surveillance programs to identify leaks. Class 1 leaks are immediately fixed. But low-level leaks are studied via engineering analysis to rank the risk and consequence of those leaks. Once analyzed, construction activities can be scheduled to repair the identified and qualified leaks. This very straightforward set of tasks to “find the leak” and to “fix the leak” have been going on for decades. So, what’s new in the world of methane emission reduction?

What’s new for methane emission reduction is the availability of new sensor platforms to “find the leak”.

Many Platforms for Detecting Methane

Finding the leak has long been a human-intensive process of walking the pipe network. While walking, field technicians will carry methane emission detectors. Once a leak is found, a gas leak report is created to document the location, quantity, and likely source of the leak.

Then came the ability to mount methane sensors on cars and trucks. These vehicles could cover more miles of pipe than the walkers. Advancements by manufacturers of these devices have further enhanced these vehicle- mounted sensors to better estimate the location of the source of the leak. These potential leaks are then investigated by field technicians to verify and complete the gas leak report.

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More recently, methane emission sensors have been mounted on aerial platforms ranging from drones to helicopters to planes. In addition to aerial mounted sensors, there are now satellites circling our planet in low earth orbit with methane sensors. These satellite-based sensors sell their data and analytics, providing gas pipe operators with yet another capability to survey the pipe network and “find the leak”.

Still Need Those Humans

These newer tools to surveil the pipe network do not replace the regulatory requirements of Leak Survey. But they do provide a new affordable capability for higher frequency monitoring. Then when a methane emission is detected, a field technician can be sent out to the emission area to validate the sensor reading and fill out the gas leak report with the details needed for the organization to “fix the Leak”. As powerful as these additional methane detections are, humans are still required to verify and document every leak.

Need a Common Repository

Adding additional platforms of methane detection opens new opportunities to reduce methane emissions.  It also creates a new, but manageable, data management issue. With these new sensor platforms to identify potential methane emissions, a common data management system is needed to capture, track, and document the status of these potential leaks. With location being critical to each potential leak, A geographical information system (GIS) is the best data management system for aggregating and managing this information.

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Critical Information for Gas Pipe System Management

Combining the information from these many methane detection platforms into a single data management system is not the finish line.  It is at best mid span. This data still needs to flow into analytical programs such as DIMP and TIMP. This data still needs to be monitored with dashboards, summarized with reports, and communicated to gas executives, regulators, and the public. This data needs to flow to construction and mobile viewing devices enabling the gas organization to “fix the Leak”. That is the finish line.

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The natural gas industry is enjoying a technological revolution. New technologies are continuously being applied to better solve gas industry problems.  And the gas industry is embracing and implementing these new capabilities at a faster pace than ever before.  Placing your GIS at the center of your methane emission management ensures the data collected by all these new sensor platform technologies is fully leveraged throughout your gas organization.

PLEASE NOTE: The postings on this site are our own and don’t necessarily represent Esri’s position, strategies, or opinions.

About the Author
Technical Lead for Natural Gas Industry at Esri