Advisor

What About Methane?

Posted March 9, 2022 | Sustainability | Technology |
What About Methane?

Most interest around sustainability and net-zero initiatives so far has focused primarily on government and industry efforts to reduce carbon emissions associated with various products and services. But, as we explore in this Advisor, there is another emission that is wreaking havoc on the environment: methane.

Methane’s Environmental Impact is Significant

Methane emissions are the second-largest cause of climate change after carbon dioxide. Methane is defined as a hazardous greenhouse gas, with approximately 28 times the warming power of carbon dioxide.

According to the recent Global Methane Assessment report from the United Nations Environment Programme and the Climate & Clean Air Coalition, over a 20-year period, methane is 80 times more potent at environmental warming than carbon dioxide.

Methane is unhealthy. The Climate & Clean Air Coalition notes that exposure to methane can significantly impact people’s health, particularly those suffering from respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma. It is estimated that exposure to methane leads to more than 1 million premature deaths every year.

Worldwide methane emissions continue to accelerate. Even with the pandemic-induced lockdowns in 2020 (when carbon emissions actually declined somewhat), atmospheric methane realized its largest annual increase since such measurements began in 1983, according to research by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

A number of sources — both natural and human activities — contribute to methane in the atmosphere. A key finding from the Global Methane Assessment report indicates that “more than half of global methane emissions stem from human activities in three sectors: fossil fuels (35% of human-caused emissions), waste (20%), and agriculture (40%).” Specifically the report states the following:

  • Fossil fuel sector. Oil and gas extraction, processing, and distribution account for 23%, and coal mining accounts for 12% of methane emissions.

  • Waste sector. Landfills and waste water make up about 20% of global emissions from human activities.

  • Agricultural sector. Livestock emissions from manure and intestinal fermentation represent roughly 32%, and rice cultivation 8% of global emissions from human activities.

Due to its potency as a greenhouse gas, reduction of methane emissions is viewed as a relatively straightforward, practical way to curtail environmental warming and climate change. Consequently, governments and organizations are taking increasing interest in methane emissions in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as specified under the Paris Climate Accords.

Technology/Market Developments

Just as we have seen technology providers introduce cloud-based platforms and services employing big data analytics, machine learning (ML), and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to help organizations monitor and measure their carbon emissions to support their sustainability efforts, we are also seeing similar offerings for tracking and mitigating the impact of methane emissions on the environment enter the marketplace.

Project Canary

One company I have been following is Project Canary. Project Canary is a data analytics and environmental assessment company focused on methane emissions measurement and reduction for the energy industry.

Project Canary offers a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform and certification program designed to help energy companies track, measure, and score the impact of methane and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) on the environment across the energy supply chain.

In the energy industry, methane emissions can originate from various sources, including leaks from oil and natural gas wells, storage tanks, pipelines, and processing plants. Abandoned oil and natural gas wells are particularly problematic because it can be difficult and time-consuming to identify them as a potential leak source.

Real-Time Analytics

Project Canary’s platform does not rely on standard industry estimates to assess environmental performance and sustainability. Rather, it employs a measurement-based, data-driven model — combining quantitative analytics, reporting, and IoT technology — to accurately score operations and generate emission profiles via real-time sensor devices deployed onsite at key facilities. 

These devices collect data every second and transmit it to a dashboard. Data visualization features let users analyze the data and respond to issues in real time. For example, by continuously monitoring key facilities — like oil and gas wells (operational, shut-down, abandoned), pipelines, and other infrastructure, companies can detect and take immediate steps to remediate methane leaks.

In generating emissions profiles, analytical models take into account various operational conditions and climate-related energy supply chain risk factors, including weather conditions (e.g., wind speed, precipitation) in order to calculate the intensity of emissions. This allows users to correlate wind and pollutant data with asset location, which helps in pinpointing the exact site of a leak.

Users can chart emissions over time to identify leaks and emission-intensive equipment (e.g., to understand which pieces of equipment are responsible for the majority of emissions at the drilling pad level — a drilling pad is a location that houses the wellheads for a number of horizontally drilled wells).

The platform can also incorporate drone imagery of a facility. This helps users view the physical attributes of site along with other data sources in order to identify and stop leaks.

Certification

Project Canary offers environmental performance assessments including environmental certifications. Certifications are based on the company’s monitoring and analysis technology and provide independent and transparent ratings that various stakeholders can use to evaluate a company’s environmental performance.

Who Is Project Canary Targeting?

Project Canary is targeting its offerings at energy producers, utilities, and industry analysts.

Energy Producers

Energy companies, including natural gas developers and providers, can use Project Canary to enhance and supplement their tracking, reduction, and mitigation goals, including to empirically track and reduce the emissions associated with production and transportation and other supply chain operations.

Utilities

Utilities can use Project Canary to add transparency to the process associated with purchasing responsibly sourced gas (RSG). RSG is a fuel that companies and consumers can rely on as having met the highest environmental standards because it has been verified by an independent third party.

For example, BKV Corporation (BKV) and BKV-BPP Power, LLC, are using Project Canary to address emissions across their energy value chain using environmental assessments and monitoring programs for their respective operations with intent to deliver RSG to the Temple I power plant in Temple, Texas, US.

This effort supports BKV’s initiative to become a verified net-zero natural gas producer. Specifically, the parties intend for Project Canary to verify BKV’s production of RSG via its environmental assessment program. This includes deploying continuous methane emissions monitoring units across almost 100 BKV drilling pad locations in the Barnett Shale of Texas and Marcellus Shale of Pennsylvania in 2022 and 2023. The companies intend to make this RSG available to power generators.

Industry Analysts

Energy industry analysts can use Project Canary to help financial markets evaluate and differentiate environmental performance among companies. This is helpful in order to appeal to corporate shareholders, green-conscious consumers, and environmental groups.

Conclusion

Methane is a hazardous greenhouse gas whose buildup in the atmosphere is significantly impacting the environment, including in terms of climate change and its contribution to long-term health effects. Governments and organizations worldwide are now paying closer attention to methane emissions, as they seek to limit global warming.

The tech industry has responded and is introducing platforms and services to assist organizations in reducing and managing their methane emissions across their supply chains. This includes SaaS-based analytics, ML,  and IoT sensor devices and programs for certifying the effectiveness of an organization’s sustainability efforts.

Finally, I’d like to get your opinion on methane’s impact on the environment and the use of technology platforms for monitoring and mitigating methane emissions. As always, your comments will be held in strict confidence. You can email me at experts@cutter.com or call +1 510 356 7299 with your comments.

About The Author
Curt Hall
Curt Hall is a Cutter Expert and a member of Arthur D. Little’s AMP open consulting network. He has extensive experience as an IT analyst covering technology and application development trends, markets, software, and services. Mr. Hall's expertise includes artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), intelligent process automation (IPA), natural language processing (NLP) and conversational computing, blockchain for business, and customer… Read More