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What’s going on with natural gas research and technology development?

The Department of Energy is committing $30 million to the research and development of domestic unconventional oil and gas, both onshore and offshore resources. DOE has selected six projects they believe will improve processes in resource development while advancing technology and engineering practices. Objectives of the research include minimizing environmental impact and risk while building domestic supplies to enhance U.S. energy dominance and security.  To read the full press release, click here.

Meanwhile, engineers are researching technology at The Ohio State University that may have the potential to produce electricity without emitting CO2 into the atmosphere.

The technology is called chemical looping, which utilizes produced CO2, metal oxide particles and high pressure to burn biomass and fossil fuels without oxygen. To read the full article click here. To learn about this process in-depth, click here.

GUEST BLOG: Coming Solar Eclipse Further Proves that Renewables Need Natural Gas

Anti-fossil fuel activists like 350.org’s Bill McKibben often pretend the United States can run on 100 percent renewable energy without the use of any traditional fuel sources. McKibben recently wrote in Rolling Stone that “the sundown problem is being solved fast, as batteries are able to store the energy from the morning sun and the wind from a gusty evening to keep the power running overnight.”

McKibben’s claims simply aren’t true though, and preparations for next week’s total solar eclipse illustrate this cold, hard fact.

Because storage technology to allow for solar power to stand alone — even during a brief loss of sunlight — doesn’t currently exist, the solar industry has been actively preparing for how to mitigate the issue in places like sunny California where that industry thrives. The solution? Natural gas.

The Power of Natural Gas in the War on Carbon Emissions

The world will benefit from reduced carbon emissions as developing and industrial countries reduce their dependence on coal and oil by gaining access to ample North American natural-gas supplies.

Natural gas has been a boon for our pocket books, the environment and our way of life. Unfortunately, it gets a bad rap from Vlad Gutman-Britten (No Washington state subsidies for fossil-fuel plants, July 16, 2017). Let’s set the record straight.

Innovative practices and technology enhancements have unlocked vast reserves of North American natural gas and oil that were previously inaccessible. Scarce and costly just ten years ago, natural gas is now abundant and inexpensive.

NWGA Releases Natural Gas Facts Booklet

Natural Gas Facts

This booklet provides an overview of natural gas and the myriad of benefits that this domestic, clean, safe, low-cost and reliable energy source offers the Pacific Northwest consumers. 3.2 million regional natural gas users are enjoying its economic and environmental advantages, but expanding the use and applications of natural gas will help provide an economically feasible, cleaner environment for future generations.

To download and read more, click here.

Natural Gas is Critical in the Energy Future

Jim Piro, President and CEO of Portland General Electric (PGE) was recently interviewed by the Portland Business Journal about the significant transition underway in the energy landscape. The key takeaway is that PGE is carefully and deliberately moving through it. Mr. Piro wants PGE to learn from others, not pioneer new, unproven resources and regulatory regimes. Mr. Piro also reaffirmed the critical role that natural gas must play in PGE’s generation portfolio to ensure that customers always have electricity when they need it:

 “[I]f the wind doesn’t blow for a day or so batteries can’t help you through that. Gas is needed to bridge that difference… If the lights don’t go on, customers aren’t going to worry about whether the gas is in the ground or not in the ground; they’re going to wonder why [PGE] didn’t meet their needs.”

 Not everyone is happy with PGE’s approach as indicated in a guest editorial by the Sierra Club and other Oregon environmental organizations recently published in the Oregonian. Unfortunately, the authors of the opinion piece use inflammatory language and outdated information to support their case. Their claim about “notoriously volatile” natural gas prices caught our eye and we’d like to set the record straight.

According to the to U.S Energy Information Administration (EIA) natural gas prices were relatively stable from 1981 to 2000, averaging $3.95/Dekatherm (Dth) when adjusted for inflation ($2015). Gas prices during the first decade of the 21st century were indeed volatile as North America struggled to produce enough natural gas to meet growing demand. From 2001 to 2010 natural gas averaged $6.61/Dth and experienced significant volatility associated with cold and hot weather, and hurricanes that disrupted conventional supply resources.onemoretime

 All that changed with the advent of shale gas which began to come online in 2007 and reached game-changing status around 2010. The average price of natural gas from 2011 to 2015 was $3.57/Dth. In 2015, natural gas averaged $2.62/Dth. The future looks equally stable. EIA projects that natural gas prices will rise to $5/Dth ($2015) and remain there as production technologies become more efficient, quicker to come on line and better for the environment. This is a dramatic change from its 2008 price forecast.

Natural gas is an abundant, cleaner, affordable energy resource. As Mr. Piro notes, it is a vital part of enabling more renewable resources in our region and elsewhere. Without natural gas, our power supply will become less reliable and more expensive. Those are the facts.

Benefits of Direct Use of Natural Gas

For many years, energy agencies have alerted Americans to the importance of energy efficiency. A variety of tags and certifications, backed by financial incentives, encourage us to understand our equipment buying options. We know that it makes sense to spend a little more on a product so that we can save money and energy throughout its useful life.

These efforts continue to reduce per capita energy use for both natural gas and electric customers. And the more energy we save, the lower our impact on the environment.

Key Takeaways From The WSU Emissions Study

Important news in the natural gas utility world last week with the release of a study published in the journal, Environmental Science and Technology, detailing a dramatic decrease in methane emissions from US local distribution systems when compared to prior estimates.

The study was led by the Northwest’s own Washington State University, with the support of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Conestoga-Rovers and Associates, an engineering and environmental consulting firm, and major natural gas utilities from across the US.

Check out the video below for a review of study’s justification and methodology:

Three key takeaways from the study (you can access the entire study by clicking here):

“The researchers found that upgrades in metering and regulating stations, changes in pipeline materials, better instruments for detecting pipeline leaks as well as regulatory changes have led to methane emissions that are from 36% to 70% lower than current Environmental Protection Agency estimates when the data gathered for this study is combined with current pipeline miles and the numbers of facilities.”

  • When returning to sites identified as large methane emitters in a study performed by the Gas Research Institute (GRI) in 1992, the researchers found significant emissions reductions in facilities that had been upgraded or replaced with newer equipment:

“To understand the large reductions found in this work relative to the GRI/EPA results, we identified nine facilities from among the larger emitting sites measured during the GRI/ EPA 1992 program to resample with our high-flow and tracer- ratio techniques. These results show substantial reductions in emissions from each individual station (factors of 2 to 50) from 1992 to the present, with one exception. In two cases, the local operator indicated that significant equipment changes had occurred at the site; while at a third site, the local operator indicated that there had been no equipment upgrades at the site in the past 20 years. This particular site was the only site without a significant reduction in emissions.”

  • While emissions nationwide were lower than prior estimates, utilities located in the Western US were responsible for emissions rates even lower than the national average:

“We also examined how emissions from pipeline leaks varied on a regional basis in the U.S. due to differences in pipeline type and miles by region (see SI Section S4.3; there was no statistical difference in EFs by region). The eastern region accounts for 34% of the total U.S. CH4 from pipeline leaks, while the western region contributes less than 20% (Figure 1). In the eastern region, emissions are dominated by leaks from cast iron and unprotected steel characteristic of older systems. As such, leaks from cast iron and unprotected steel pipe account for 70% of the eastern emissions and almost half of total U.S. emissions. In the western region, systems are newer with more miles of plastic and protected steel pipe, and leaks from these systems contribute less than 5% of the total U.S. emissions. These regional variations and the low emissions associated with plastic pipes are significant as the U.S. moves toward replacement of older pipelines with plastic and uses plastic for new distribution expansion.”

This study was the third in a series reviewing methane emissions from throughout the natural gas supply chain. In each case the research was performed with the cooperation of the EDF, an academic institution, and relevant natural gas facility owners and operators.

Stay tuned for a blog in the coming weeks where we’ll discuss some of the parallels between each of the three studies.

Comprehensive Study Shows Decreasing Emissions from Local Natural Gas Distribution Systems

Washington, D.C. – A study published today in Environmental Science & Technology led by a team from Washington State University (WSU) found that emissions from local natural gas distribution systems in cities and towns throughout the U.S. have decreased in the past 20 years, to levels 36 to 70 percent lower than current estimates. This reduction reflects significant upgrades at metering and regulating stations, improvements in leak detection and maintenance activities and replacement of older pipeline materials.

“A concerted effort by natural gas utilities to upgrade our nation’s pipeline network in order to enhance safety has contributed significantly to a declining trend in emissions from the natural gas distribution system,” said AGA President and CEO Dave McCurdy. “Natural gas utilities are leading a fact-based dialogue about our nation’s energy future. Better data informs that conversation and help us to continually improve the delivery of natural gas to homes and businesses safely and reliably.”

Led by Regents Professor Brian Lamb in WSU’s Laboratory for Atmospheric Research with assistance from Conestoga-Rovers and Associates, an engineering and environmental consulting firm, the study provides the most comprehensive set yet of direct measurements of emissions from the distribution system. They estimate that emissions from the distribution system range from approximately 393 to 854 gigagrams per year, which is between 0.1 and 0.2 percent of the natural gas delivered nationwide.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s annual Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks currently uses data collected in the 1990s in a study sponsored by the Gas Research Institute and the EPA. The WSU researchers found dramatically lower emissions, particularly, at metering and regulating (M&R) stations. In fact, because of the significant differences they saw from data from the early 1990s, the researchers revisited nine sites from the previous study and found an average of one-twelfth fewer emissions than 20 years ago from those M&R stations. The researchers also measured reductions in emissions from individual pipeline leaks as compared to earlier studies.

“Because of its abundance and inherent efficiency, natural gas is a foundation fuel for our nation’s clean and secure energy future. Safety is our top priority and as we strive to make our systems safer by upgrading and modernizing our infrastructure we are also making them cleaner,” said McCurdy.

Results from the study by WSU suggest that the number of pipeline leaks have decreased 25 percent for mains and 16 percent for services due to the use of better pipe materials, efforts to seal cast iron joints, and enhanced leak detection and repair procedures.

Since 1990, natural gas utilities have installed modern plastic pipes at a rate of 30,000 miles per year and installed cathodically protected coated steel mains at 1,500 miles per year, both connecting new customers and upgrading existing pipeline infrastructure. They have also added nearly 600,000 miles of distribution mains and service lines to serve 17.5 million additional customers. Pipes that may no longer be fit for service are being replaced with ones made from more modern materials.

Decisions to replace pipe are rooted in enhanced risk-based integrity management programs. America’s natural gas utilities work with their state regulators, legislators and other key stakeholders to advance important safety policies that both enhance system integrity and support increased access to natural gas service for homes and businesses.

AGA and many of its member companies were involved in the development of, and have been partners in the EPA’s Natural Gas STAR program since its inception in 1993, and the industry is working with EPA to develop a new voluntary Gold STAR certification for the natural gas distribution sector. In May 2014, the AGA Board of Directors also approved a set of voluntary guidelines for the purpose of further emissions reductions.

Dr. Lamb’s project is part of a group of ongoing studies that are looking at the entire natural gas supply chain, from the production wells to the transmission pipeline system to local distribution systems. The study was done in coordination with major natural gas utilities and the Environmental Defense Fund.

As part of the study, the research team carefully measured numerous sites selected from lists of known leaks provided by the twelve participating utilities in various regions around the country that met specific criteria to ensure a comprehensive and representative dataset. The researchers took direct emissions measurements of 230 randomly selected, representative leaks from underground pipelines as well as at 229 metering and regulating stations where natural gas is measured and regulated from higher pressure pipelines to lower pressure distribution pipelines.

The group also used different methods than in the previous study, which Lamb believes results in a more accurate assessment of the actual emissions. The researchers made twice as many measurements as in the previous study and carefully checked their results with back-up methods.

Spectra’s Doug Bloom Talks Natgas in the Vancouver Sun

Stories about the potential economic benefits of natural gas sourced from within North America have become increasingly common in the past year.  Last week the Vancouver Sun got in on the act with a story highlighting the perspectives of a couple of key leaders from NWGA member companies, Doug Bloom from Spectra Energy and John Walker of FortisBC.

We’ll cover the FortisBC section of the article in our next blog post; today I want to highlight some of the great insights provided by Doug Bloom, President Western Pipelines, for NWGA Member Company Spectra Energy.

In a talk given to the Vancouver board of trade Mr. Bloom hit on the growth in British Columbia natural gas supply, a development that has led to more greater supply diversity not only in Western Canada but throughout the Pacific Northwest, saying B.C. has truly huge natural gas resources. We’ve got over 100 years of supply at current production rate.”

Bloom continued by highlighting some key environmental benefits provided by switching to natural gas:

“By shifting 25 per cent of current energy use from coal to natural gas, Canada and the U.S. could meet their national emissions (reduction) targets. 

“Gas in transportation is also an important opportunity. A company called PIRA, Petroleum Industry Research Associates, a prominent consultant, said that gas demand in large trucks and fleet applications in the United States could reach 14 (billion cubic feet) a day by 2030. 

“That could reduce diesel demand by up to two million barrels per day or more through a mix of LNG and compressed natural gas applications.”

Click here for the entire article.