Utilizing Technology to Comply with Regulations

It’s no secret that greenhouse gas emissions and pollution are continuously becoming a problematic environmental issue. Therefore, in August 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a suite of requirements under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan to reduce methane and VOC emissions from oil and natural gas production, processing and transportation activities. According to the EPA the proposed rules are, “a suite of commonsense requirements that together will help combat climate change, reduce air pollution that harms public health, and provide greater certainty about Clean Air Act permitting requirements for the oil and natural gas industry.”

In targeting methane emissions reduction, the new proposed rule expands coverage within the source category to additional processes, and equipment such as storage vessels, compressors, and pneumatic controllers used in upstream and downstream operations. Where the 2012 New Source Performance Standards were applicable to volatile organic compounds applied to hydraulically fractured gas wells, the proposed rule will cover both hydraulically fractured oil wells and gas wells. The proposed rules will also implement requirements for fugitive emissions survey and repair in accordance with a Leak Detection and Repair program.

While the rulemaking process will be championed and challenged on the merits of its potential economic impact on the industry and society, several technological trends in the industry could greatly lessen the operational and compliance cost impact. The application of new sensor-equipped valves and optical imaging devices have set the stage for oil and gas companies to ensure their equipment, completion processes and systems, as well as refining processes, transportation systems, and repair and reporting activities are effective and compliant, while not incurring large long-term costs or having to hire more personnel.

Monitoring health through IoT

The industry’s digital oil field efforts have been aimed at developing technology and organizational structures capable of leveraging advancements in sensor and communication technology. While much work is left to be done, the industry has foreseen the increasing environmental regulations aimed at decreasing greenhouse gas emission and improving air quality. Along with the industry’s desire to ensure the safety of its operations, this view has helped shape the DOF efforts of the industry.

Rather than performing periodic manual inspections and follow-up engineering assessments before being able to get the right personnel and equipment on station to conduct repairs, leveraging sensor technology can position the industry to remotely monitor its emissions, detect problems and automatically dispatch personnel and equipment needed to facilitate compliance.

Coupled with the leak detection and imaging capability of optical technologies, these systems can be further leveraged in condition-based monitoring applications where sensor data is used to monitor vibrations, temperatures and pressures. Sensors also monitor thermal representation of pumps, compressors, and other key system components to measure the overall “health” of drilling, transportation and refining systems. With each vibration or temperature change, sensors alert appropriate personnel of conditions which change the emission factors of the equipment.

Sensors also provide the key inputs required for predictive maintenance applications. Similar to condition-based monitoring, predictive maintenance uses advanced analytics from data released by the sensors. The data alerts personnel if any maintenance needs to be done on the drills, which reduces any downtime. A drill that is not working properly, may release more methane than the EPA allows.

With the right use of sensor and monitoring technology, the oil and gas industry will see a change in their processes and allow them to stay compliant with the new regulations.