Integrating oil and gas with renewables assets
Operators have also started to integrate renewable power sources – solar photovoltaic (PV), wave energy, and wind power – alongside onshore and offshore oil and gas production. Italian operator Eni, and Sonatrach, Algeria’s national oil company, supply power for gas treatment in Block 403 fields in the Sahara Desert from their joint-venture 10-megawatt solar PV plant at Bir Rebaa North. They may expand solar to other Algerian sites.5 Eni and Politecnico di Torino are progressing towards making a 100 kilowatt (kW) peak power version of their Inertial Sea Wave Energy Converter (ISWEC) available for industrial uses including medium-to-large offshore platforms.6 ISWEC, an integrated power generation plant using wave and solar PV energy, was trialled successfully offshore Italy.
DNV GL’s Energy Transition Outlook forecasts rapidly increasing offshore wind capacity (Figure 3) and that cheaper associated costs will open up greater use of wind power by oil and gas installations. Equinor is to develop Tampen Hywind on the NCS as the first floating wind farm to power offshore oil and gas platforms. The Oil & Gas Authority (OGA), the UK regulator, has called on the UKCS oil and gas industry to source electricity directly from offshore renewables for business benefits as well as to reduce emissions.7
Reducing oil and gas industry methane emissions
Other common targets for lowering emissions from production offshore and onshore include reducing incomplete flaring of waste gas from oil and gas processing; stemming fugitive (unintended) leaks of methane along the value chain; alleviating the need for intentional venting (for safety or technical reasons) of methane at points such as compressors, pumps, and valves; and, making greater efforts to detect and stop methane. Some operators already see flare/vent volumes as a key performance measure in day-to-day operations.8
The International Energy Agency (IEA) 2020 Methane Tracker estimates that oil and gas industry methane emissions were equivalent to more than 81 million tonnes of CO2 in 2019: 4% from incomplete flaring, 28% from fugitive releases, and 68% from venting.9 Among hotspots, the US shale gas boom has seen emissions from flaring quadruple in a decade, as lack of gathering infrastructure and pipeline capacity in some shale areas make it cheaper to vent or flare cheap natural gas than to transport it to buyers.10
IEA estimates that some 75% of emissions from flaring could be avoided, and that 40% overall could be prevented at no net cost if captured gas was commercialized. This is the rationale behind Nigeria’s programme aiming to attract USD 3.5 billion per year from inward investors to buy the 11% of the country’s gas production that is otherwise flared. Nigeria hopes the gas will be used for fuel or feedstock to boost local economies.
Advanced satellite technology detects methane leaks
Oil and gas companies increasingly use advanced satellite technology to detect and measure methane emissions. Satellites operated separately by Canadian company GHGSat11 and the European Space Agency have spotted significant methane leaks in various oil and gas operations. GHGSat is also assisting Shell to reduce methane leakage at the latter’s sites worldwide.12 BP has tested advanced methane sensors on a fixed-wing remote-piloted drone for its North Sea assets.13 ExxonMobil is field-testing methane-detection by satellite, aerial drones, helicopters, and planes. The environmental organization Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) planned MethaneSAT satellite will make higher-resolution measurements, cutting the cost of quantifying methane emissions from point sources in oil and gas operations.
BP, EDF, Eni, Equinor, Shell, Total and Wintershall Dea have collectively made policy recommendations to the EU to standardize methane emissions data collection. More than 20 leading oil and gas companies are committed to the Methane Guiding Principles partnership pledged to reduce methane emissions. Three industry organizations – the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, the International Association of Oil & Gas Producers, and IPIECA – are collaborating towards developing a best practice guideline on detecting, monitoring, and reporting such emissions.
Digitalization and data analytics boost efficiency
DNV GL expects digital technologies and data analytics to reduce emissions upstream by boosting the energy efficiency of production, through better control of flaring, and by improved management of the risk of leaks and other unintended releases of gas. For example, advanced wearable tools, connecting personnel to experts worldwide via video or other means of data exchange, can drive better decisions about operations and maintenance. Increasing popularity of solutions such as remote survey technology will mean that less travel and accommodation will be needed for experts. Inspections will also become increasingly autonomous through the use of robotics supported by advanced sensors and machine vision. Fewer personnel onboard – and, ultimately, more unmanned platforms operated remotely – will reduce the energy needed, and hence related emissions.
By more accurately predicting problems, and enabling more timely interventions, the receiving and automated analysis of data from digital sensors and other sources in oil and gas field operations can reduce the chance of unintended releases of emissions.14
As for the offshore supply chain, GPS tracking and algorithms will optimize logistics routes, decreasing fuel energy consumption and emissions. Additive manufacturing (3D printing) will create the ability to make components or larger products at, or close to, where they are used, further reducing transport energy requirements and emissions.15
More collaboration is needed
Partnerships will be “crucial in scaling up innovation and new technologies for decarbonization”, Hovem said. The industry is discussing best practice for electrification and energy efficiency management. Operators and suppliers are identifying supply-chain emissions reductions. For example, NCS oil and gas companies and Norwegian shipowners are exploring how to cut emissions from supply boats.
Some operators are considering whether to adopt a common set of key performance indicators for reporting progress on emissions. Some oil and gas sector companies may adopt science-based targets. For example, oilfield services and equipment giant Schlumberger has committed to the multi-stakeholder Science Based Targets initiative that encourages companies to set GHG emissions reduction targets consistent with Paris Agreement targets.
“To develop technology to reduce upstream emissions, companies can consider supporting collaborative joint industry projects (JIPs) and projects in research centres, as well as their own R&D efforts,” suggested Hovem. DNV GL’s global network of laboratories and experts initiate and manage JIPs that often lead to recommended practices and standards of relevance to emissions and efficiency in oil and gas operations. Recommended Practice DNVGL-RP-F302 Offshore leak detection is one example.