Methane regulations spur economic opportunities

By Dennis Webb 
Tuesday, November 10, 2015

SILT — Colorado’s new methane-emission rules in the oil and gas industry and similar rules being considered nationally are promising new economic opportunities for companies targeting those emissions.

That’s according to the Center for Methane Emissions Solutions, which recently was founded to help provide a voice for such businesses.

Already, 72 firms involved in such work are headquartered in the United States, with manufacturing, service and other operations based at 573 locations, Patrick Von Bargen, the center’s executive director, said Tuesday at a meeting of Garfield Clean Energy, a collaboration of local governments. Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado are the leading states for the industry, he said.

Part of the motivation for oil and gas producers, pipeline operators and others in the industry to try to reduce leaks is economic. The industry is the nation’s top source of human-caused methane emissions, he said.

“What that means to the industry is substantial lost revenues,” he said.

He estimated that loss at about $1.2 billion a year even at today’s low natural gas prices.

Methane also is a potent greenhouse gas, and typically leaks in combination with volatile organic compounds and other pollutants. With that in mind, Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission last year passed what’s known as Regulation 7, imposing the nation’s first rules specifically targeting methane emissions by the industry. Now the Environmental Protection Agency and Bureau of Land Management are considering rules targeting methane at the national level.

“Colorado … is the leader in the country on this issue by passing and enacting Regulation 7. We’re paying real close attention to how that’s going because there are several rulemakings on the federal level,” Von Bargen said.

He said that, generally speaking, Colorado’s rules require inspections for leaks on a quarterly basis, and for leaks to be repaired within a specific time frame.

Jobs in leak detection and repair pay an average of about $31 an hour, he said. He said one company, FLIR Systems, opened a training facility in Oklahoma to train laid-off oil and gas workers to use infrared cameras to spot leaks.

Von Bargen said there are now nine service providers that do leak inspection work for smaller energy developers in Colorado. That eliminates the need for the companies to have to buy expensive infrared cameras themselves.

Jim Armstrong, with Apogee Scientific in Englewood, said his company offers a non-camera type of detection system that not only finds leaks of methane, total hydrocarbons and carbon dioxide, but can measure their concentrations. It’s already used in many applications, although it wasn’t approved for use under the new Colorado rules.

“It’s crazy because there are companies all over the country that are coming up with very innovative things, not just us,” he said.