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Guest Blog: Onboard Dynamics

For our society to prosper and thrive while also meeting our environmental goals, there needs to be reframing and rethinking of how we talk about our natural gas ecosystem. We need to help the public better understand the many benefits of natural gas and its supporting infrastructure while living with the risks from all forms of energy and associated infrastructure. So how can natural gas play an important role in achieving our net-zero energy system? A key step in achieving this goal is to ensure that no natural gas is released into the atmosphere during natural gas pipeline evacuation associated with routine maintenance and unexpected repairs.

Current Practices for Natural Gas Pipeline Evacuation

Depending on the operator, the location, and the operating pressures, companies are deciding whether to vent the gas, flare the gas, draw down and then vent or flare, purge, or cross compress to an adjacent pipeline or be compressed to 3600 PSIG and transferred into a tube trailer.

Example of flaring during natural gas pipeline evacuation.

Tougher Regulations Are Here

The PIPES Act, signed into law at the end of 2020, created dozens of regulatory mandates, including the requirement to report on technologies/practices to prevent or minimize the intentional release of gas during planned repair, replacement, or maintenance operations. A year ago, a bill was introduced in Congress to levy a fee on methane emissions. And recently, FERC voted to expand its authority in its oversight of the industry.

These tougher regulations add to the challenges facing pipeline operators today to stay in compliance with standards and business practices.

Barriers to Perform Basic Pipeline Operations

The barriers that pipeline operators are facing today while evaluating their options and needing to perform these basic pipeline operations include:

  • Public scrutiny – especially in urban settings.

  • Stakeholder pressure from corporate entities.

  • Lack of equipment availability and the right-sized equipment for the evacuation job.

  • Time to set up and perform the evacuation job, especially when there are a myriad number of permits issued and contractors are lined up waiting to perform their work.

  • How to validate and account for these positive actions that a pipeline operator might take.

Each of these barriers comes with its own set of challenges. So, to enable operators to take the lead and incorporate best practices of capture and recovery of natural gas during pipeline evacuations, solutions need to be:

  • Easy to operate.

  • Easy to set up and deploy.

  • Safe and compliant.

  • Fully automated.

  • Fast and efficient from beginning to end.

Providing solutions with such characteristics will help foster the change that is needed for the natural gas industry to overcome barriers that inhibit the ability to keep our natural gas pipeline infrastructure well maintained while mitigating methane emissions.

Things to Look for When Choosing the Right Solution

As operators and service providers work to reduce their GHG footprint, they should consider the following characteristics to achieve the cleanest way possible to evacuate pipelines.

An operator should consider the source of power driving the system. Is diesel fuel required to operate an air compressor or generator; is it electric-driven, or is it using the natural gas coming directly from the pipeline? Indirect emissions coming from these power sources can have an important impact on the environmental profile of pipeline maintenance projects.

Another characteristic to be considered is how much total equipment is required at a job site. There are advantages to using small, self-contained systems in areas that are hard to reach. A system with high maneuverability is important at many job sites. A self-contained system reduces headaches from managing multiple pieces of equipment to perform a job. Plus, a self-contained system makes it easier and safer for the operator in the field.

Natural gas pipeline evacuation in the field. Projects like these can remove natural gas from a pipeline, transfer it into an adjoining pipeline, or transfer the gas to a tube trailer.

Clearly, having the right flow rates and capacity are essential. But in addition, remote monitoring validates environmental compliance while full automation reduces operator training and enhances project safety.

In Summary

The natural gas industry should take aggressive steps to eliminate methane leaks and intentional releases that occur today. Taking the lead, especially when solutions are now fully commercialized and available, will ensure that natural gas plays its critical role during our path to a net-zero energy future.

To learn more about Onboard Dynamics, please join us for our October 20 Noon webinar; click here to register.

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