Reducing Methane Emissions

What is methane?

Methane is a colourless, odourless flammable gas that is the main component in natural gas. In oil and gas production, methane is released into the atmosphere when natural gas is flared or vented in a regulated process.

Why we want to reduce methane emissions

Increased concentrations of methane in the atmosphere contribute to the greenhouse effect, whereby greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapour absorb infrared radiation and reradiate it back to Earth’s surface, potentially trapping heat and producing changes in climate.

Reducing methane emissions from oil and gas operations is recognized as one of the most effective ways to reduce greenhouse gases. While industry operators currently employ practices to conserve emissions by way of gas capture, combustion and infrastructure investigations to detect and repair leaks, some natural gas is lost during normal operations. This occurs unintentionally from leaks, or by venting.

The BC Oil and Gas Commission performs 4,000 to 5,000 inspections per year on oil and gas infrastructure. If unauthorized methane releases are identified, industry is required to take corrective action.

What we are committed to doing about methane emissions

The provincial and federal governments have set targets for reducing methane emissions from upstream and venting oil and gas operations. The Government of B.C. has a reduction target of 45 per cent by 2025, relative to 2014 levels, while the Government of Canada has set a reduction target of 40-45 per cent by 2025, relative to 2012 levels.

The BC Oil and Gas Commission, the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, and the Climate Action Secretariat of the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy have developed methane emission regulations to meet the methane emission reduction targets, and to ensure they are equivalent to recently announced federal regulations. An inter-agency/Commission team has been working on technical assessments, modeling and scenario analysis, and developing draft methane regulations to be enacted under the Oil and Gas Activities Act.

The proposed regulations address the primary sources of methane emissions from B.C.'s upstream oil and gas industry, which are:

  • Pneumatic devices
  • Equipment leaks
  • Compressor seals
  • Glycol dehydrators
  • Storage tanks
  • Surface casing vents

The B.C. approach is expected to reduce methane emissions by 10.9 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent over a 10-year period. That’s like taking 390,000 cars off the road each year.

How we are collaborating on methane research

We welcome research that furthers our understanding of methane emissions and how best to manage and reduce the release of methane from oil and gas operations.

Although reduction initiatives are underway, further information and research is required to guarantee progress. The Commission is involved in the BC Oil & Gas Methane Emissions Research Collaborative (MERC), which was created to focus research efforts toward managing and reducing the release of methane from oil and gas operations. MERC will make recommendations on the design and implementation of the key research deliverables that will be necessary to meet methane reduction goals.

In addition, a field study of upstream oil and gas facilities in B.C. was conducted in fall 2018 to estimate the number and types of equipment and components that may release methane to the atmosphere during operation. In total, 266 locations were visited in September 2018 during the field study, involving 21 operators.

The majority of sites had no leaks detected during the survey. The full findings are available in the report, and an anonymized data table is also available.

The study was led by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Action Secretariat, along with the federal environment ministry (Environment and Climate Change Canada). The Commission’s involvement – along with the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources – was to provide in-kind support and sit on the project’s advisory team which designed the project’s approach. We will continue working with the study partners to further examine how this data may impact the modelling of various policy or regulatory initiatives.

How we are involving stakeholders

On Sept. 14, 2018, the Commission met with industry groups and other select stakeholders to discuss regulatory approaches to methane emission reduction. The presentation slides are available here (slides current as of Sept. 14, 2018).

On Nov. 20 and 21, 2018, the Commission met again with select stakeholders to respond to feedback to date. The presentation slides are available here (slides current as of Nov. 21, 2018).

On Dec. 13 and 17, 2018, the Commission met again with select stakeholders to discuss next steps and review a draft guidance work plan. The presentation slides are available here (slides current as of Dec. 17, 2018).

What we have heard

The Commission has received written submissions from select stakeholders. You can read feedback on regulatory approaches to methane emission reduction below.

Pre-draft submissions:

Submissions on the consultation draft of regulations:

What is happening next

On Jan. 16, 2019, the Commission announced new regulations to reduce methane emissions from upstream oil and gas operations to meet or exceed federal and provincial methane emission reduction targets. The amendments to the Drilling and Production Regulation come into effect on Jan. 1, 2020. Read the Commission’s Information Bulletin on the topic for more information. 

Check this page for future updates.