Natural gas is an important and growing part of our nation’s energy portfolio. It emits less greenhouse gases than coal when combusted, and avoids mercury and other dangerous air pollutants that come from coal. It could be a huge win-win for America, empowering our economy and driving environmental gains, but only if we do it the right way. Valve manufacturers have a real role to play in ensuring natural gas delivers on both accounts.
Reducing emissions of methane, the primary constituent of natural gas, is a significant part of getting it right. That’s because methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas with 84 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame, when released unburned into the atmosphere. Estimates suggest that roughly 25 percent of the global warming we’re experiencing now is driven by methane. The oil and gas sector is already the largest industrial source of methane emissions in the United States, and with the shale boom expected to continue for quite some time, there is significant potential for emissions to rise even further. Methane emissions, which can occur during the production, delivery and use of natural gas, have the potential to completely negate the climate benefits of substituting natural gas for coal.
For your customers in the oil and gas industry, methane emissions are a growing problem for two reasons. First, as awareness of this issue grows, so does regulatory and public scrutiny. Policymakers at the federal and state levels are actively looking at ways to address this issue, increasing regulatory risk for the industry. Furthermore, as the public better understands the climate impact of methane, some are starting to question whether natural gas can really deliver on its environmental promise, a critical part of its value proposition. Second, methane is lost product. Conservative emission estimates suggest that almost $2 billion in gas is lost every year. That’s unnecessary waste of a valuable domestic natural resource.
For the valve industry, there is good and bad news in this story: valves are part of the problem AND part of the solution. Estimates from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggest that leaking valve stem packing is responsible for 60% of all fugitive emissions in a typical processing plant. However, lower emissions, or low-e, valves significantly reduce the risk of fugitive emissions by using improved stem packing technology. Low-e valves, to be certified as such according to API Standards 622 and 624, must leak less than 100 PPM for five years and must come with a manufacturer guarantee stating such, or should have gone through rigorous testing showing the lower emissions rate.
As the oil and gas industry increasingly focuses on minimizing methane emissions, the valve industry has a significant growth opportunity to help its customers solve this problem. The industry will be looking for solutions that will help them comply with new emissions rules and keep more product in the pipeline. Companies that manufacture low-leak valves, and other methane mitigation equipment, stand to benefit and will help ensure that the boom in natural gas works for both our economy and our environment.
About the Author:
Sean Wright is a Senior Analyst for Environmental Defense Fund’s Corporate Partnerships Program. In this role, Sean works with the natural gas sector to engage corporate leaders to help ensure safe and clean development of domestic natural gas. Sean’s primary focus is mitigating methane emissions from the natural gas supply chain. Before joining EDF, Sean w0rked at Credit Suisse for five years covering the energy and extractives industries as an equity analyst.