January 2023

Executive viewpoint

Energy industry already leads on reducing methane emissions
Frank J. Macchiarola / API

As we continue toward a lower-carbon future, innovative measures that have already helped reduce emissions and protect the environment should be the cornerstone of our low-carbon energy strategy in the years ahead. 

All of us recognize the importance of reducing methane emissions. The American Petroleum Institute (API) supports federal regulation of methane from new and existing sources. 

But regulation is just a piece of the puzzle. If we are to meet the challenge of reducing emissions—while also producing affordable, safe and reliable energy that the world needs—American energy industry leadership is paramount. It’s essential. And leadership is what the oil and natural gas industry is providing. 

Industry leadership. Five years ago, API launched The Environmental Partnership (TEP), an unprecedented coalition of oil and natural gas producers committed to continuously improving the industry’s environmental performance. TEP has been successful. Its programs have been a part of the U.S. achieving a 66% reduction in methane emissions intensity of production across all major oil- and natural gas-producing regions over the past decade. Meanwhile, TEP participants report a nearly 50% decline in flare intensity. Both are key measuring sticks, as we gauge efforts to reduce methane emissions from oil and natural gas operations. 

And TEP is ready to achieve even more. Its membership growth—from a couple dozen participants five years ago to more than 100 today, representing 70% of America’s onshore production—reflects the industry’s prioritizing of environmental progress. At TEP’s launch, participants were concentrated in the oil and natural gas upstream segment, which discovers, develops and produces energy. More recently, TEP was expanded to the midstream segment—pipelines that move oil and natural gas from where it is produced to refineries and processing centers and then to families, manufacturers, and other businesses. 

At every step of the way, a strength of TEP has been collaboration, working together— remarkable, considering these companies are marketplace competitors. This cooperation shows the industry’s sincere commitment to take action, to reduce methane emissions. 

TEP’s performance programs. Since its inception, TEP has created several environmental performance programs, each focused on key sources of methane, as identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):  

  • TEP’s leak detection and repair program concentrates on clear opportunities to find and reduce emissions in the production and transportation of natural gas through pipelines. Participants have committed to monitoring selected sites, using instrument methods and technologies, such as optical gas imaging cameras. In most cases, leaks are repaired within 60 days. In 2021, the most recent data year, more than 345 million component inspections were performed, and more than 90,000 sites surveyed. Participants reported a 0.05% leak occurrence rate, or less than one component in 2,000, among sites surveyed.
  • TEP’s pneumatic controller program seeks to replace, remove or retrofit pneumatic controllers used in the operation of control valves, which can release small emissions. In 2021, more than 22,400 additional gas-driven controllers were replaced or removed from service, and more than 4,500 zero-emission pneumatic controllers were installed at new sites.
  • TEP’s manual liquids unloading program and pipeline blowdown program focus on emissions from specific procedures during operations. More than 39,000 manual liquids unloading events were monitored in 2021, while emissions reduction practices were implemented during more than 7,800 pipeline blowdowns. 
  • TEP’s compressor program targets actions that reduce emissions from reciprocating and centrifugal compressors within oil and natural gas transmission. In 2021, approved emissions reduction practices were used on more than 1,500 compressors.
  • Finally, flare management is the newest of TEP’s programs, first implemented in 2020. Flaring may occur during maintenance or to safely alleviate pressure. It also is used as a better alternative to venting when an oil well produces natural gas and there is no pipeline infrastructure to take it away. In 2021, participants reported a 45% reduction in flare intensity and a 26% reduction in total flare volumes from the previous year. 

Further work on methane. As you can see, our industry is hard at work finding and improving solutions on methane emissions. We’re highly motivated to reduce these emissions, because methane is the key component of the natural gas our companies bring to American families and businesses. The goal is relatively simple: Keep methane in the pipe. 

API is eager to build on the quantifiable environmental benefits made in TEP’s first five years. We’re expanding TEP’s focus in four key areas: facility design; operations and maintenance; measurement and detection; and data integrity. TEP also will continue to systematically document and share pertinent findings and practices throughout the oil and natural gas industry. 

There is more to be done, yet the outlook for continued progress is encouraging. Again, API supports regulation of methane, and we have engaged with EPA to ensure that the agency’s final rule encourages innovation while building on the progress made through TEP and other initiatives. We think this is the appropriate regulatory path.  

Staying on track. Recently, the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality issued interim guidance on measuring GHG and climate impacts of infrastructure projects under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) that is not helpful. It veers into EPA’s already established lane on emissions and risks lengthening NEPA’s review processes, which already take an average of more than four years to complete. This is problematic, not just for oil and natural gas infrastructure, but for others as well, including wind and hydroelectric projects, vegetation management, airports, and traffic improvements. 

So, let’s keep our eye on what is already working, as well as ways to improve or add to those measures 

About the Authors
Frank J. Macchiarola
Frank J. Macchiarola is Senior Vice President of Policy, Economics and Regulatory Affairs at the American Petroleum Institute
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