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Air quality experts find oil and gas industry ready for best practices but lacking mandates to act

Marissa McDaid and Colleen Carow | Oct 21, 2019
BMP
Research engineer Saikat Ghosh reviews slides visualizing emissions data gathered for the region.

Air quality experts find oil and gas industry ready for best practices but lacking mandates to act

Marissa McDaid and Colleen Carow | Oct 21, 2019
Research engineer Saikat Ghosh reviews slides visualizing emissions data gathered for the region.
Research engineer Saikat Ghosh reviews slides visualizing emissions data gathered for the region.

Ohio University researchers have found that when it comes to air emissions and effects of best management practices (BMPs) at oil and gas production sites in the Northern Appalachian Basin, it’s economics, voluntary programs, and BMPs developed by the industry – in part a response to uncertainty in federal and state regulations – that are the major pathways for currently addressing methane emissions. However, they might not adequately meet future challenges.

Serving the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the research team was led by Michael Zimmer, executive in residence and senior fellow at the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs; with Kevin Crist, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and director of the Center for Air Quality in the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, and Saikat Ghosh, research engineer.

Combining interviews and emissions modeling, the team learned that most federal and state regulatory agencies haven’t been charged with taking coordinated steps to actively minimize emissions of greenhouse gases such as methane. Instead, voluntary BMPs and programs for individual companies continue to grow in the marketplace. Stakeholder survey results suggest that some companies won’t fully comply or participate unless certain activities are required—or enforced.

“The oil and gas industry can achieve a 75 percent reduction in methane emissions with technologies commercially available today. Almost two-thirds of these technologies can be deployed at no net costs to industry,” Zimmer said. “These technologies and increased digitalization will all be critical building blocks for decarbonization in the future.”

The research team created a five-state regional emissions inventory, assembling information from numerous third-party sources and applying emissions factors to reported oil and gas production activities. The team was then able to create a model that applied BMP scenarios to various activities to demonstrate the impact that their adoption would have across the region.

Results showed that potential reductions are significant and indicate that the methane emissions from oil and gas production can be limited with these control strategies, even with expected future increases in activity.

According to Crist, consistent regulations based on BMPs could help to minimize methane releases in cases where extraction firms don’t have the capability to capture or store the gas produced.

“This is highlighted in cases where the extraction is focused on the light liquids, where methane is a side product,” Crist said. “Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas, so it’s important that state and federal agencies focus on regulations and BMPs designed to minimize its release.” 

The multidisciplinary partnership among the Voinovich School, Russ College and Center for Air Quality, provides nonpartisan research and analysis that supports decision-making related to energy independence, economic growth, and environmental sustainability.