An interview with Henri Azibert, Technical Director of the FSA.
Just last month, the EPA released a new set of nationwide standards to reduce pollution from methane in the oil and gas industry for the first time ever. With this new regulation set to impact one of the nation’s largest industries, we were wondering who would help oil and gas bridge this gap. Recently, we had the opportunity to meet with Henri Azibert, Technical Director at the Fluid Sealing Association (FSA). He had some interesting answers, as well as information about what the members of the Association are doing to meet this challenge.
Q: The EPA has announced rules to reduce methane emissions from the U.S. oil and gas industry. Can you tell us what this means in laymen’s terms?
A: Basically from what my reading is on the topic, and I haven’t studied everything, the EPA proposed regulation applies to new oil and gas sites or those that are modified for processes such as fracturing. They want to make sure someone monitors equipment for methane leaks. This includes wells, pumps, compressors, and any equipment with fittings and connections that could leak. The FSA is involved because its members specialize in products that prevent these types of leaks. Regulations establish two basic items: 1. Doing an audit of the site to find links 2. If there are leaks to be found, they must be fixed. The frequency of monitoring depends on how much faulty equipment is detected. The regulation specifies monitoring methods, and promotes sustainable maintenance and effective operations.
Q: Is there a fine the EPA associates with methane in these new regulations?
A: There is a redress procedure if repairs of defective equipment are not completed timely. Leakage levels are usually measured in terms of parts per million of methane, but it also includes VOCs from other hydrocarbons like butane, pentane, etc.
Q: Felice Stadler is Director of Campaigns for Environmental Defense Fund’s U.S. Climate & Political Affairs program and has said, “cutting methane is the biggest bargain for greenhouse gas reductions in the energy business.” Do you agree?
I do not have enough data to comment accurately. What I can say it is that it is a very serious component. Methane is problematic because of its impact on the environment. In fact, over some periods of time, it is up to 100 times worse than other greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. It is a serious problem when you realize some of the methane is just purposely vented out in some of these operations. There are times when it is vented without any containment, as can be the case in pneumatic pumps that use compressed natural gas as their powering source.
Q: The Houston Chronicle wrote that “smart environmental policy in a few key companies can’t solve an industry-wide challenge, and a patchwork of state regulations can’t fix a national problem…. regulations should add a little more than a penny to the cost of natural gas – about one-third of one percent of today’s prices.” Is this true?
A: I don’t have any specific data to confirm this. I do know that with operations we have analyzed in the past, we’ve found operations that were leaking the very product they intended to sell. They were actually wasting money.
In general, what we’ve found in the seals area is that if you have better programs in place to contain leakage, you improve safety, reduce the impact on the environment, and in turn make more money. The FSA provides tools such as the Life Cycle Cost Calculator to show companies that investment in better sealing systems can actually make back the cost of implementing effective containment and even contribute to greater profits in the future with a few simple changes. It is very cost effective to control leakage whether in a compressor, seals for valves or flanges; it all makes a big difference. You can save a lot of money if you contain your emissions.
Q: Mike Shorts, President of the Fluid Sealing Association, has said, “The Fluid Sealing Association welcomes the opportunity to work with the EPA and our customers to ensure sealing device technology continues to play its role in reducing methane emissions. The rules recognize that there are proven, cost-effective solutions to this problem that are ready to be deployed.” What are the FSA’s solutions?
A: Basically, the sealing products are used throughout the systems, including piping systems, instrumentation, controls, and all methods of bringing oil and gas from one place to the other. These systems have pipes, connectors, valves, and possibly thousands of seals throughout it all. If they are installed improperly or chosen incorrectly, you’re going to have problems.
The FSA members helps at every stage of oil and gas explorations, in extraction, refining, drilling, petrochemical plants, and all those places. They are present in all systems even if when they are not directly protecting the environment. For example, if there is a water leakage, it isn’t dangerous to the environment, but it can be damaging to operations.
Some of our members will provide various services from raw materials to end products. It does vary. Some members do it all from manufacturing materials, sealing products, and assisting installation. Most of them have training programs for customers to help them make informed decisions. These products or programs are all available.
Q: What could the industry be doing now or in the future that they aren’t doing to address the methane issue?
A: The one thing they can do now is what the EPA is proposing, which is to have a program to detect leakage. This is also essential when you have deliberate leakage. It is important to have a method to capture it and use it by selling it or burning it. When you burn methane, you can reduce its environmental impact by up to 95%. It is essential to keep the methane inside the process at all times.
Q: What is in store for the FSA? Are there any new products on the horizon we should know about?
A: The FSA’s members are always innovating new products. In the recent past, there has been added emphasis on curtailing emissions. Our members have performed extensive testing to see how well their products work in certain scenarios and have developed solutions for the particular problems. There’s a lot of interest in this area and there have been lots of new products. More training programs have also been developed, because the issue isn’t always the seal, it is how it’s chosen and installed.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: The FSA is a progressive organization that plans to work closely with the EPA and offer guidance on what can be reasonably achieved. The EPA doesn’t want to put out regulations that businesses can’t easily apply or that is excessively expensive; this is referred to as Reasonably Available Control Technology. Our sister organization, the European Sealing Association, has published guidelines referred to as Best Available Control Technology. The FSA also writes white papers and magazine articles informing the public of what is available, what can be used, and provides training programs on how best to apply these products.
More on the Fluid Sealing Association
The FSA is an international trade association whose member companies produce and market a wide range of fluid sealing devices primarily targeted to the industrial market. These members include companies in Central/South America and Europe, but are most concentrated in North America. Members account for a majority of the manufacturing capacity in fluid sealing devices in the Americas.