NASA solves methane mystery

Since 2006, methane emissions have risen by 25 teragrams (a unit of weight so large that NASA notes you would need more than 200,000 elephants to equal one teragram) every year. To date researchers have been unable to pinpoint the cause of the increase but a new study from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has revealed two-thirds of methane emissions originate from the Oil & Gas Industry.

Heating up

NASA’s team of researchers found that almost 17 teragrams per year of the increase is due to fossil fuels. While Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions are largely blamed for global warming, methane is a greenhouse gas capable of trapping 86 times as much heat as CO2. An increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases blocks heat from escaping Earth, “forcing” climate change, increasing temperatures, the likelihood of extreme weather and raising sea levels.

New and innovative extraction methods have led to an increase in US shale production in recent years. As the main constituent in natural gas, methane is released during the mining and distribution of fossil fuels.

“The sharp increase in methane emissions correlates closely with the U.S. fracking boom,” said Jim Warren, executive director of the climate watchdog group NC WARN. “Leaking and venting of unburned gas—which is mostly methane—makes natural gas even worse for the climate than coal.”

Following routine

Due to the high greenhouse gas rating of methane, it is environmentally better to flare methane than release it into the atmosphere. Burning of methane converts the gas to carbon dioxide and water vapour.

Gas flaring can also reduce the risk of explosion on oil and gas sites. Flares can be used to burn excess natural gas, reducing the potential for a dangerous build-up of pressure.

However, flaring also represents a waste of valuable energy. A 2015 report from the World Bank stated that every year 140 billion metric cubic meters of natural gas is flared at oil fields around the world – enough energy to provide power to Africa. While gas is often flared for safety reasons, a large proportion is still flared as the main method of disposal for facilities that do not have the infrastructure to capture, transport and monetise it.

No routine flaring

Support is growing for initiatives such as the World Bank’s Zero Routine Flaring (ZRF) to reduce the oil and gas sector’s combined routine carbon emissions. Launched in April 2015 with 25 endorsers, the ZRF initiative brings governments, oil companies and development institutions together to work toward eliminating routine gas flaring by 2030.

Signatories to ZRF have committed to eliminating flaring within existing operations, ensuring new sites incorporate gas utilisation solutions that avoid routine gas flaring or venting and publicly report flaring volumes on an annual basis.

Measuring flare gas is important for reducing environmental impact but is one of the most challenging types of gas flow measurement. Fluenta’s ultrasonic flare gas meter provides accurate emissions information for reporting and helps companies to manage their gas flaring processes – knowing how much natural gas they burn and when this can be restricted.  While traditional industries have been slow to realise the potential in technology, the energy sector is finally understanding the role it can play in restricting environmental damage from oil and gas processes.

Learn more about the FGM 160 flare meter here.

January 22, 2018 | News

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