ONE Future’s member companies are committed to continuously improving their emissions management to assure efficient energy production and delivery. One Future’s members include some of the largest natural gas production, processing, transmission and distribution companies in the United States – a unique coalition that represents virtually the entire natural gas value chain. Here’s some background on why our member companies have made a commitment to reducing their methane emissions.
Quick primer on methane
What we call natural gas is almost purely methane — a very simple compound, chemically speaking, consisting of a single carbon atom with four hydrogen atoms (CH4). Because of its simplicity and lack of additional compounds, natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel when burnt to produce energy, emitting virtually no NOx (nitrous oxide), SOx (sulfur dioxide), or particulate matter. Natural gas is also the least carbon intensive of fossil fuels, producing half as much carbon dioxide as other fossil fuels when used to produce electrical power. However, if methane is emitted directly into the atmosphere instead of combusted, it is a potent greenhouse gas that is roughly 25 times more powerful at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. ONE Future member companies are in the business of finding, producing, processing and delivering natural gas to our customers — providing us added incentive to reduce our emissions to the maximum extent possible.
Industry has reduced its methane emissions
According to EPA data, US natural gas producers have reduced methane emissions by 17 percent since 1990 (even as production grew some 37 percent over the same period).That strong record of achievement has allowed the United States to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and achieve major improvements to air quality, while meeting our energy security needs. But we know that more can be done.
The natural gas value chain
The natural gas sector is comprised of four principal industry segments: Exploration and production companies explore for natural gas and put it into gathering lines for delivery to Processing plants who remove impurities and strip out natural gas liquids for sale to chemical manufacturers, leaving natural gas that meets industry specifications, which is then conveyed across the massive North American pipeline system by Transmission and Storage companies for sale to local Distribution companies and utilities, which in turn distribute the natural gas to residential and industrial end users.
Methane emissions occur in each of these industry segments, primarily from normal operations and actuation of equipment that is designed to emit some natural gas for a variety of reasons. Additionally, there are fugitive emissions — leaks– that can occur from faulty equipment, practices, or system upsets. To varying degrees, many of these emissions sources represent opportunities to capture value and reduce greenhouse gases. Each industry segment’s proportional share of 2012 methane emissions is illustrated in the chart at right.
Our goal: 99 percent efficiency
ONE Future is focused on demonstrating an innovative, performance-based approach to the management of methane emissions directed toward a concrete goal: to achieve an average rate of methane emissions across the entire natural gas value chain that is one percent or less of total natural gas gross production. (To put this in perspective, the industry’s current rate of emissions is equal to approximately 1.3 percent of gross natural gas production, based on current EPA data – which equates to a loss of roughly 360 billion cubic feet (BCF) of natural gas per year.)
Why did we pick the one percent target? Here are four related reasons:
1. Feasibility. We believe that an emissions intensity rate of one percent or less is ambitious, but achievable using existing technology and practices.
2. Scientific research. A well-known peer-reviewed study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggested that in order for natural gas usage to provide immediate greenhouse gas reduction benefits as compared to any other fossil fuel in any other application, the industry would have to achieve a leak/loss rate of one percent or less. While ONE Future members do not unequivocally accept every conclusion of that paper, we believe it is sufficiently robust to serve as a guidepost for our aspirational targets.
3. Public acceptance. We strive for continuous improvement in order to ensure that natural gas remains the fuel of choice for any end-use sector at all times: power – including natural gas delivered by local distribution companies for power generation; residential, commercial and industrial demand; and important emerging markets like transportation and LNG exports.
4. Affordability. Finally, we believe that the industry can cost-effectively achieve an average emissions intensity rate of one percent. Eliminating all emissions would be both technically infeasible and economically untenable. However, ONE Future believes that targeted investment in abatement technologies today can both yield significant improvements in environmental performance and supply chain efficiency – and that’s just good business.