Managing methane emissions
We are working to detect and lower our methane emissions to reduce our impact on the environment.
Shell has a range of initiatives in place to reduce our methane emissions. These include programmes to detect and repair methane leaks in our operations. We also implement energy-efficiency measures, as well as flaring and venting reduction programmes.
Efforts to further reduce our emissions will continue to be a focus over the coming years.
Methane from oil and gas production
Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas (GHG) than carbon dioxide (CO2); it has 34 times the global warming potential of CO2 over a 100-year time frame, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change AR5 report. Reductions in methane emissions today will help to slow the short-term rate of global temperature rise, as methane remains in the atmosphere for a much shorter time than CO2.
Methane emissions associated with oil and natural gas production tend to occur in four main areas: combustion (emissions of unburnt methane from fuel combustion); flaring (where the flaring itself fails to burn all the methane); venting (for example, from tanks and equipment); and unintended emissions (for example, small leaks sometimes called fugitive emissions).
Natural gas emits less CO2-equivalent than coal when burnt at a power plant, but methane leakage in the natural gas system could reduce this benefit. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that total methane emissions in the natural gas supply chain – as a percentage of the global total volume of natural gas produced – were around 1.3% in 2014. This takes into account methane leaks during gas processing and transmission through pipelines for power generation.
At this leak rate, the average life cycle GHG emissions from US natural gas power plants is around half of those from US coal power plants. Shell continues to work to manage and reduce our methane emissions so that the emissions from gas remain lower than coal. Liquefied natural gas emits around 40% less GHG emissions than coal when burnt to generate electricity.
Collaborating on emissions reduction
Shell works with others to manage methane emissions. We have participated in several initiatives, such as the EPA Natural Gas STAR programme, for many years. This programme encourages oil and gas companies to adopt technologies and practices that reduce methane emissions. In early 2017, we joined the Climate and Clean Air Coalition Oil & Gas Methane Partnership, which brings together industry, governments and non-governmental organisations to improve our understanding of methane emissions and work to reduce them.
We are also collaborating on research to better understand methane emissions. This includes studies by Eurogas, the association representing the European gas industry, and the Natural and bio Gas Vehicle Association, on methane emissions in the gas supply chain in Europe. As a member of the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI), we are working with experts to improve methane data collection and our understanding of the natural gas life cycle.
Shell is working with governments, the oil and gas sector and regulators, to help find a way to effectively manage methane emissions. We advocate government policies that will support the reduction of methane emissions across all sectors of the economy.
In our onshore unconventional operations, we regularly use leak detection and repair (LDAR) programmes, which have infrared cameras to identify and repair fugitive leaks. We use LDAR in countries including the USA, Canada, the Netherlands and Tunisia. We continue to extend the implementation of LDAR across our operations.
We are actively testing new technologies for the detection and measurement of methane emissions, such as optical gas imaging through our membership of OGCI Climate Investments. This partnership, that launched in 2016, will invest $1 billion over 10 years in low-carbon technologies.
In 2016, methane emissions contributed less than 5% of Shell’s GHG emissions on a CO2-equivalent basis. More than 60% of our reported methane emissions in 2016 came from flaring and venting in our upstream operations.
We report our methane emissions from these sources according to regulations and industry standards. We also engage in industry-wide work on more accurate reporting methods, such as through IPIECA, the global oil and gas industry association for environmental and social issues.