Major oil companies have responded to such concerns by stressing that they are working to prevent emissions following well shut-ins and the reduction of staff.
ExxonMobil, for example, is testing methane detection technology at 1,000 worksites in Texas and New Mexico. The company hopes to be able to apply the technology commercially following the trial period, says Staale Gjervik, ExxonMobil’s vice president of unconventional.
“By testing the most promising methane detection technologies in a field environment, we are providing viable solutions that can be adopted by other producers to detect and reduce methane emissions,” comments Gjervik. “We are applying scientific rigor and taking aggressive steps to find commercially scalable and affordable solutions for all operators.”
In May, Exxon launched Project Astra together with the University of Texas at Austin, Environmental Defense Fund, the Gas Technology Institute, and Pioneer Natural Resources. Autonomous technology will gather data until the end of the year to determine where methane censors can operate most effectively to detect leaks.
Houston-based Surge Energy also reported it is stepping up leak detection efforts. These include adopting a leak detection program, reducing flaring, and avoiding the use of high-bleed pneumatic controllers.
Oil industry groups have long argued that producers have already gone a long way in cutting methane emissions. In December 2019, a study released by Texans for Natural Gas, the Permian Basin Petroleum Association, and New Mexico Oil and Gas Association stated that methane intensity, which refers to the amount of methane emitted per barrel of oil produced, has decline by 64 percent over the past seven years.
Critics point out that this figure is less impressive than it may at first sound, given that oil production has almost tripled since 2011. This means that in absolute terms, methane emissions have gone up.
Jordan Smith is a freelance journalist and translator covering issues related to energy, the environment, and politics. His work has appeared on the independent news site Opposing Views, and at the Canadian Labour Institute.