fugitive emissions-seriously this time

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Recently, there has been news about small methane emissions from wells in Quebec. Everything I see in Quebec indicates the system is working. Not that our or any system is perfect, but it appears to be working.

Fugitive emissions are a routine issue and a continuous improvement area for the entire natural gas system, not just our industry. These emissions occur from small leaks in the system from the well to the burner tip and include the pipelines and storage facilities in between.

When the system is working within its engineering design, without any danger to health or safety, these issues are handled routinely by well established regulations and procedures.  It is so routine that typically the issues are handled by trained field staff and don’t even come to the daily attention of management unless a non-routine issue is detected. Through the monitoring and inspection process sometimes wells with significant leaks are found.  These should and must be remediated.

Please go to this link for a presentation by TransCanada Pipelines to see how managing methane emissions are part of their routine work.

Please go to this link on the Environmental Protection Agency’s website to see the major sources of methane emissions as of 2008.  The highest is livestock, second is landfills, third is natural gas systems and fourth is coal mining. Over recent years, natural gas systems have been continuously improving emissions while livestock continues to increase methane emissions.

That our industry has fugitive emissions is commonly known.  We have read in the Quebec news many times how some environmental groups believe that due to fugitive emissions, the use of natural gas may not reduce emissions as much as commonly expected.  In fact, studies do take in to account fugitive emissions estimated to be under 2% which are well known to organizations such as the EPA and Nature Quebec.  It is a surprise that it is a surprise to anyone that our industry has methane emissions.

As another example, the oil industry also has emissions and you only have to fill your car with gasoline and smell it and be reminded.  These emissions include things like benzene; that are proved to have potential to be harmful to your health.  Methane is a natural by-product of human digestion processes and is not harmful to health.

The system is working.  It is working to monitor the wells.  It is working to inspect the wells.  It is working to identify routine problems.  It is working to require that remedial work is done when appropriate on non-routine problems.  Where the legislation and regulations in Quebec are less detailed, industry and the Government are looking to British Columbia for their regulations and procedures for small emissions.  As part of the legislation process there will be opportunity to review and improve the system where appropriate.

I think it would be an indication of an industry out of control if these things were not happening.  We can’t be perfect but we can do things properly.