Cheniere Energy, EQT
among those seeking
to collect data on
Pa.—Drones darted in patterns
above natural-gas wells in the
hills of southwest Pennsylvania,
as workers atop water tanks
pointed specialized cameras,
and a helicopter outfitted with a
laser-light detection system
swooped in low. All searched for
an invisible enemy: methane.
The U.S. gas industry faces
growing pressure from investors and customers to prove
that its fuel has a lower-carbon
provenance to sell it around the
world. That led the top U.S. gas
producer, EQT Corp., and the
top exporter, Cheniere Energy
Inc., to team up and track the
emissions from wells that feed
major shipping terminals. The
companies are trying to collect
reliable data on releases of
methane—a potent greenhouse
gas attracting scrutiny for its
contributions to climate
change—and demonstrate they
can reduce these emissions.
“What we’re trying to really
do is build the trust up to the
end user that our measurements are correct,” said David
Khani, EQT’s chief financial officer. “Let’s put our money where
our mouth is.”
Natural gas boomed worldwide over the past few decades
as countries moved to supplant
fossil fuels such as coal and oil.
It has long been touted as a
bridge to a lower-carbon future.
But while gas burns cleaner
than coal, gas operations leak
methane, which has a more potent effect on atmospheric
warming than carbon dioxide, though it makes up a smaller
percentage of total greenhousegas emissions.
Investors, policy makers and
buyers of liquefied natural gas
are rethinking the fuel’s role in
their energy mix because of
concerns about methane emissions, which were highlighted
this week as a significant contributor to climate change by a
scientific panel working under
the auspices of the United Nations. Those concerns, pronounced in Europe and increasingly in Asia, are a problem for
LNG shippers, as some of their
customers signal plans to ease
gas consumption over time.
In a policy draft last month,
Japanese regulators said the
country would have LNG make
up 20% of its projected power
generation by 2030, down from
a prior target of 27%. The European Union has been weighing
how to pressure LNG shippers
to cut emissions. It could include LNG among the imports
subject to a recently proposed
carbon border tax.
Nearly every industry faces
some pressure to reduce its carbon footprint, as investors focus
more on environmental, social
and governance issues and push
companies for trustworthy
emissions data. But the pressure has become particularly
acute for oil-and-gas companies,
whose main products contribute
directly to climate change.
Producing, transporting and
ultimately burning one metric
ton of LNG releases the greenhouse-gas equivalent of about
3.4 metric tons of carbon dioxide, according to a U.K. government estimate, about a quarter
of which are emitted before the
fuel reaches a power plant.
Though the world is now
devouring natural gas as economies emerge from the pandemic, shale executives said keeping U.S. supplies competitive will require companies to
corral leaks from wells, processing facilities, pipelines and
the export plants before tankers carry it around the world.
The tricky part, they said, is
proving to skeptics they are
Cheniere, the largest U.S.
LNG exporter, this summer began leading a joint effort with
EQT, the largest gas producer,
and four other producers in cluding Pioneer Natural Resources Co., to figure out the
most effective way to monitor
Over six months, the companies and researchers plan to
test drones, cameras that can
see methane gas, and other
technologies across about 100
wells in the Marcellus Shale in
the northeast U.S., the
Haynesville Shale of East
Texas and Louisiana, and the
Permian Basin of West Texas and New Mexico.
The goal is to collect methane-emissions data and see
how it stacks up against current estimates from U.S. environmental regulators, which
critics consider overly conservative as their underlying data
isn’t based on continuous measurements. The companies will
then decide which technology
is the most effective when deployed on a larger scale for
continuous monitoring of methane leaks, and which
ways to best cut emissions.
EQT has said it would
spend $20 million over the
next few years to replace leaky
pneumatic devices, which help
move fluids from wells to production facilities and water
tanks, with electric-drive
valves, executives said. They
expect that will cut about 80%
of the company’s methane
emissions. The company also
began exclusively using electric-powered hydraulic fracturing equipment last year.
Cheniere delivered what it
called its first carbon-neutral
cargo to Royal Dutch Shell PLC
in Europe in April, by purchasing carbon offsets from Shell.
It plans to provide customers
next year with data on emissions tied to each shipment it
sends from its two Gulf Coast
export facilities. That data,
contained in Cheniere’s cargo
emissions tags, will be based
on its analysis of emissions
from its supply chain.
The LNG shipper expects its
analysis will show a range of
emissions from gas producers,
pipelines and exporters, but
that emissions from the gas it
gathers will be comparatively
low, said Anatol Feygin, Cheniere’s chief commercial officer.