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Exxon Mobil moves to reduce methane from oil and gas operations

26 September 2017

On September 25 ExxonMobil announced a program to reduce methane emissions from its production and midstream facilities across the United States. The program will prioritise actions at sites operated by shale subsidiary XTO Energy and includes efforts to develop and deploy new, more efficient technologies to detect and reduce facility emissions.

Shale gas production site - Image: XTO Energy
Shale gas production site - Image: XTO Energy

“We are implementing an enhanced leak detection and repair program across our production and midstream sites to continually reduce methane emissions, and are also evaluating opportunities to upgrade facilities and improve efficiency at both current and future sites,” said XTO president Sara Ortwein. “Our comprehensive initiative is underscored by a technology research and testing effort, and includes personnel training, equipment phase out and facility design improvements.”

The program includes a commitment to phase out high-bleed pneumatic devices over three years, extensive personnel training, research, and facility design improvements for new operations.

XTO recently completed a pilot project in the Midland Basin that tested new low-emission designs that use compressed air instead of natural gas to operate pneumatic equipment that helps regulate conditions such as level, flow, pressure and temperature. The results successfully demonstrated the feasibility of using similar designs for new and existing central tank batteries and satellites, to reduce the potential for methane emissions.

XTO’s efforts also include research conducted with ExxonMobil Upstream Research Company and third-party equipment manufacturers to continue development of more efficient, state-of-the-art equipment to detect, quantify and reduce emissions at production sites. These research efforts build on an extensive portfolio of more than two dozen existing methane research projects and pilots already under way.

Earlier this year, ExxonMobil, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and others evaluated the use of aircraft-mounted leak detection surveys to guide equipment repair, and continue to assess the use of satellite, aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, and mobile and ground-based technologies to refine the company’s methane monitoring.

“Combining our field experience with the research capabilities at ExxonMobil upstream research provides us with unique insights as we look to develop and deploy new, more efficient technologies,” Ortwein said.

As part of the company’s efforts to better understand the magnitude and characteristics of oil and gas industry-related methane emissions, ExxonMobil participated in studies conducted by the University of Texas and Environmental Defense Fund.

ExxonMobil remains active in ongoing methane research, including participation in a methane measurement reconciliation study with the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and in supporting research currently underway at Harvard, the University of Texas Energy Initiative, and Stanford University’s Natural Gas Initiative.

The news comes as various agencies in the federal government have been moving to dismantle methane-monitoring rules put in place by the Obama administration, although the Republican-controlled Congress has voted to protect some of those same rules. Exxon is also facing scrutiny from state attorneys general who claim that the company may have misled investors on the nature and urgency of global climate change caused by carbon emissions.

Furthermore, the company faced an investor vote (albeit a non-binding one) earlier this year that resulted in 62.3% of investors expressing their desire for Exxon to conduct an annual risk review of climate change on the company's business.

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