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Reducing methane emissions: the key role of data

Faced with escalating environmental concerns and an evolving legal framework, energy players are increasingly facing challenges in accurately monitoring their methane emissions. They will need to rely on robust data management practices and high level of expertise in methane emissions.

Data is mandatory to reduce methane emissions.

Methane is the second-largest greenhouse gas contributing to climate change, accounting for approximately 30% of global warming worldwide. According to the latest IPCC report, compared to carbon dioxide, methane has a warming capacity around 30 times higher, despite a much shorter lifetime in the atmosphere, lasting only twelve years as opposed to hundreds. As a result, tackling methane emissions is a very effective short-term approach to limiting global warming. 

The environmental impact of methane is so significant that several important international projects have been launched in recent years to accurately quantify methane emissions using satellite technology. These projects are primarily managed by organizations such as the European Space Agency  (ESA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the MARS project (Methane Alert and Response System) launched by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). However, whilst satellite detection is useful for identifying large-scale leaks, it only accounts for a portion of all methane emissions, which are overshadowed by those from regular oil, gas, and coal operations. Hence, while monitoring methane emissions globally is a relevant strategy for targeting major sources of emissions and encouraging responsible actions, the most efficient approach is to incentivize all stakeholders to maintain precise data collection in a bid to have a comprehensive overview of their own emissions. 

In the midst of an increasingly stringent legal framework and the urgent need to mitigate methane emissions, Sia Partners has identified effective data management as one of the biggest challenges faced by energy players. This encompasses a range of processes, from how data is collected and monitored, to how data can be efficiently used and analyzed. These processes are critical for operators to accurately estimate their current emissions, anticipate the potential reductions that can be achieved, and determine the necessary investments. 

Beyond metering, data management plays a central role in developing emission reduction strategies. For these strategies to be effective, each step of the process must ensure the reliability, relevance, and precision of monitoring data to facilitate informed decision-making. The entire data infrastructure must be designed with careful consideration of the specific needs, future developments, and all constraints associated with methane emissions. 

Data reliability is strongly dependant on the data collection process.

Monitoring methane emissions is a complex task that relies heavily on data collection and processing. Firstly, in order to accurately quantify methane emissions, it is crucial to have a thorough understanding of the constraints associated with each type of emission. Each emission type requires a specific measurement method, which in turn is associated with a particular level of uncertainty. To assist stakeholders in navigating these intricate quantification methodologies, the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership (OGMP) has developed a classification system for categorizing methane emissions based on their types and sources. 

Type of emission Source Main challenges encountered for data reliability based on Sia Partners' expertise
Fugitives emissions Leaks from components The primary difficulty lies in the fact that leaks can occur throughout the gas network. The initial challenge, therefore, is to efficiently identify these leaks using for instance imaging technology or laser spectrometry. The second challenge is accurately quantifying these leaks. Currently, one method to directly quantify leakage rate is through the use of devices like vent bags. However, the most common approach, due to its quick implementation, involves measuring methane concentration in contact with the leaking components and converting it into a flow rate using a standard EN 15 446, which provides correlations based on the type of emission source. ​ Another challenge lies in the fact that leaks may occur in underground networks and are thus more challenging to detect.
Fugitives emissions Permeation As with leaks from components, identifying and quantifying permeation leakages from plastic pipes presents its own set of challenges given that they may occur at any point along the pipeline network. Since permeation is an inherent characteristic of plastic and polymer pipes, it is assumed that they will experience some level of leakage with a certain flow rate. Determining this flow rate relies on using the best available data or conducting specific measurements. ​
Vented emissions Operational Emissions (Purging & Venting, Regular emissions) In contrast to fugitive leaks, operational releases are typically well identified. The primary challenge lies in accurately determining the quantity released during maintenance events or the total quantity released throughout the year from devices with continuous releases. One approach to address this challenge is by indirectly calculating the discharged volumes using other technical data available to the operators. Additionally, conducting punctual measurements in the field can provide further insights and contribute to a more precise estimation of the released quantities. ​
Vented emissions Incident and emergency situations Releases resulting from technical failures are by nature unpredictable and challenging to quantify directly. As with purging and venting, the objective is to calculate the quantities of methane released using the best available data. ​
Incomplete combustion Flaring Directly measuring this type of emission is considered one of the most challenging tasks. Currently, there are limited devices available that enable simple, effective, and reliable quantification of unburnt emissions. Despite the existence of increasingly sophisticated flares that achieve combustion rates exceeding 99%, accurately quantifying the residual methane emitted into the atmosphere remains difficult. In the energy industry, flaring is still widely considered one of the most efficient and expedient methods for mitigating the climatic impact of a gas release, as carbon dioxide has a significantly lower warming potential compared to methane.
Incomplete combustion Other Gas combustion devices Other combustion devices can also emit methane, such as gas turbines, boilers and gas-powered generators. Operators can rely on manufacturers specifications or carry out specific quantification campaigns.

The initial challenge is to detect emissions. While some emissions are well-known and easily identified, others, such as fugitive leaks, can be more challenging to detect. The choice of detection technique depends on the operators and the different asset types they operate, all while keeping in mind the constraints faced by operational teams. Commonly used methods for detecting methane emissions at various scales include Optical Gas Imaging (OGI) cameras, Flame Ionization Detector (FID) and thermal conductivity detectors (gas detection devices). 

Following this initial detection phase, there are several different ways to estimate or measure methane emissions. It is important to note, however, that all these estimation and measurement methodologies come with significant uncertainty regarding the magnitude of emission sources and their variability. The OGMP provides a classification of four different levels of source-level quantification methodologies, ranging from rough to precise: 

  • Level 1: Emissions reported at asset- or country-level based on generic emission factors. 
  • Level 2: Emissions reported according to simplified source categories, based on generic emission factors. 
  • Level 3: Emissions reported by detailed source type, based on generic emission factors. 
  • Level 4: Emissions reported by detailed source type using company-specific emission and activity factors, based on direct measurement methodologies. 

In addition to its source level expertise and knowledge, Sia Partners is also conducting “site level” measurement experiments with its clients. This approach, introduced by the OGMP, involves quantifying emissions at the site or facility level independently of the source-level quantification. The objective is to reconcile emissions estimates at both levels, thereby enhancing confidence in reported emissions. The technologies available for site-level measurements often involve sensors mounted on mobile platforms such as trucks or drones. This reconciliation between site-level measurements and source-level measurements is characterized as Level 5 in the OGMP framework

Level 5 brings forth a new set of challenges for the energy industry, as it requires the integration of two different approaches whilst dealing with operational and technological challenges. Data reconciliation also introduces increased uncertainties, emphasizing the importance of seeking out the most reliable quantification processes whilst maintaining consistent uncertainty levels.  

Data quality must improve to better monitor methane emissions.

Currently, the comprehensiveness and precision in emissions reporting can vary significantly among emitters. This discrepancy arises from the fact that different companies, including upstream, mid-stream, and downstream entities, have distinct sources of emissions and quantification methodologies. Consequently, they report widely divergent emissions with varying uncertainties regarding their emission types (see figure 1). As each emission source presents its own challenges and difficulties in metering, the quality of reporting is diverse. Furthermore, even among actors within the same sector, significant differences can be observed. According to the 2022 International Methane Emissions Observatory (IMEO) report published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), a substantial portion of reported emissions is considered incomplete. In fact, in each sector, over 90% of reported emissions are considered incomplete (see figure 1). According to the IEA, methane emissions are estimated to be approximately 70% higher than the amounts officially reported by national governments. 

Share of emissions reported for operated assests, by level and segment

Figure 1: Share of emissions reported for operated assets, by level and segment (from IMEO 2022 report) 

Despite the difficulties in measuring methane emissions, the quality of reporting has been improving in recent years, and all actors involved are continuously learning, and striving to enhance it. The number of companies participating in the OGMP report has also increased, with several major companies joining every year. As of today, OGMP 2.0 covers a significant portion of global natural gas transmission and distribution pipelines, storage capacity, and liquefied natural gas terminals, accounting for more than 20%, 10%, and 15% respectively. 

However, reporting through the OGMP is still in a learning phase for all actors involved, as it requires a deep understanding of the reliability and relevance of the data. Improving data quality is a major challenge in both reporting and monitoring of methane emissions. Effective monitoring also relies on data visualization, such as dashboards, and key performance indicators (KPI) tracking, to identify and address significant leaks promptly. Therefore, it is crucial that all data and KPIs displayed in these dashboards are highly reliable, complete, and relevant. Currently, monitoring efforts are hindered by the lack of quality reporting. Relying on experienced entities in data management may be valuable in addressing these challenges. 

Emission monitoring is key for effective mitigation actions.

For an operator, having a comprehensive understanding and overview of their methane emissions is crucial for developing an optimal emission reduction strategy. 

  • Firstly, having precise knowledge of the emission sources allows the operator to effectively target their efforts.  
  • Secondly, a good overview of their emissions helps in prioritizing mitigation actions. By identifying areas with the highest emissions, the operator can concentrate their reduction efforts where they will have the most significant impact. This approach ensures that resources are allocated efficiently and effectively.  
  • Lastly, having a precise understanding of their own emissions allows the operator to quantify the expected return on investment when implementing emission reduction solutions. By estimating the volume of methane that can be avoided through mitigation measures, the operator can assess their financial implications and thus make informed decisions. This information becomes crucial for project evaluation and validation by the operator's top executive management as well as relevant national authorities.  

In summary, efficient data management is a critical issue for energy operators aiming to effectively reduce methane emissions. 

How Sia Partners can help energy players in their data management.

At Sia Partners, we recognize that ensuring a high level of quality for OGMP reporting poses a significant challenge, and data management plays a crucial role in meeting this challenge. Throughout the entire lifecycle of the data, from metering to visualization, it is essential to guarantee the reliability and relevance of the data. Three key elements must be addressed, each requiring distinct knowledge and skills. A lack in any of these elements can have a detrimental effect on all the monitoring process and the overall quality of the data: 

  1. Data Infrastructure: Establishing an optimized technological ecosystem including databases, APIs, performance considerations, costs, and that meets the specific requirements of OGMP reporting and future legislative requirements. 
  2. Data Quality: Ensuring data reliability, availability, completeness, and other quality aspects throughout its lifecycle is of utmost importance. This involves implementing measures to verify and maintain the accuracy and integrity of the data at each stage, from collection to storage to analysis. 
  3. Data Visualization: Transforming the data into user-friendly and visually appealing dashboards is crucial for decision-making processes. 
How we support our clients in managing methane emission data

For several years, Sia Partners has been providing valuable assistance to its clients in their methane emission data management. Notably, when preparing OGMP reporting, as well as in the development of their Implementation Plan. The Implementation Plan is a crucial document that outlines the emission reduction goals and the specific quantification methods employed for each methane emission category declared in the reporting. Our expertise spans from collecting and organizing the necessary data to drafting, formatting, and ultimately submitting the report to the UNEP. 

We have supported clients in becoming certified OGMP Gold Standard every year since 2021. This certification recognizes and rewards ambitious methane emissions reduction targets, the quality of reporting, and the reliability of the methane emission data provided. 

While achieving the gold standard certification is a significant milestone in monitoring methane emissions, it represents much more. It enables operators to continuously improve their knowledge on their methane emissions and helps them to tackle emissions. It also embodies a widely shared tracker to monitor methane emission reduction at different levels, from energy players to international authorities and organizations. Likewise, it also serves as a crucial step towards sustainable global development and ensures alignment with forthcoming stringent legal frameworks. 

Sia Partners expertise in methane emission reduction strategies.

At Sia Partners, we believe that developing an optimal strategy for reducing methane emissions requires a thorough analysis of existing internal data processes such as data monitoring, reporting processes and a complete quantification methodology assessment. 

Our expertise in methane emission strategies has led us to develop a unique approach in supporting energy players and helping them achieve their methane emission reduction goals. 

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