How BP’s Lower 48 Business Is Tackling the Methane Challenge

August 3, 2018

BP believes natural gas will play a key role in helping the world transition to a lower-carbon economy.

For starters, gas can dramatically reduce CO2 emissions in the power sector. Indeed, the recent growth of natural gas in electricity generation — displacing other fossil fuels — is the main reason that America’s energy-related CO2 emissions declined by 14 percent between 2005 and 2017.

Meanwhile, gas can provide essential backup generation for renewables like solar and wind, helping them produce energy even when it’s not sunny or windy.

With operations that span five states — Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming — BP’s Lower 48 onshore business is one of America’s largest natural gas producers. It also has been an industry leader in understanding and addressing the challenge posed by methane emissions.

Methane is the primary component of natural gas. It has a shorter lifetime in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, but it has a higher global warming potential.

BP’s Lower 48 business has achieved significant methane reductions through a series of voluntary actions. For example:

  • The business has replaced around 99% of its high-bleed pneumatic controllers with continuous low-bleed and intermittent pneumatic controllers. These controllers use energy from pressurized natural gas to operate valves and control pressure, flow, temperature and liquid levels. Depending on their design, they can release (or “bleed”) natural gas into the atmosphere. Thus, replacing high-bleed pneumatics can help reduce methane emissions.
  • It has reduced venting during liquids unloading by implementing enhanced automation, plunger lift, and optimized shut-in cycles through its Smart Automation project in the San Juan Basin. The unloading process occurs when operators bring liquids that have accumulated in a well up to the surface.
  • It implemented “green completion” technology before such technology was a regulatory requirement. Green completion equipment helps recover natural gas for sale and minimize the amount that is flared or vented during the completion of wells.
  • It has replaced many of its chemical injection pumps with solar pumps.
  • It has optimized its compressor engine fleet to reduce the number and size of engines.
  • It has installed a waste heat recovery unit at its Florida River gas plant in Colorado. This unit allows the plant to capture exhaust gas waste heat and use it for energy.

Thanks to these actions and others, BP’s Lower 48 business has slashed its total greenhouse gas emissions by more than 2 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent since 2000, with methane reductions accounting for most of the decline.

The business continues to analyze innovative methane leak detection technologies that could help operators identify leaks more quickly and more efficiently. As part of those efforts, it is piloting the use of drone technology (unmanned aerial vehicles), while also testing other technologies that aim to quantify emissions.

In addition, BP Lower 48 recently launched a pilot project in which it teamed up with a Silicon Valley firm and applied a mathematical model to optimize production at 180 onshore wells in Wyoming. This led to a 75 percent reduction in venting emissions events, a 20 percent increase in production and a 20 percent reduction in costs. The project will expand to more than 2,000 onshore wells by the end of 2018.

As that example demonstrates, BP’s focus on reducing methane emissions is closely tied to its larger strategy of improving efficiency and productivity.

“We recognize that, to maximize the climate advantage of natural gas, we have to reduce methane leakage,” says BP Lower 48 CEO Dave Lawler. “Our team has played a leading role on methane, and we’re proud of our recent progress. We also understand that reducing methane emissions with advanced technology can help make our operations safer, stronger and more reliable. In that sense, tackling the methane challenge is not only good for the environment, but also good for business.”