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 incompletely combusted, vented, or leaked 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 radiate 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 can occur unintentionally from leaks, by venting, and by incomplete combustion.
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 Commission, along with 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. The 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.
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 are effective Jan. 1, 2020. Read the Commission’s Information Bulletin on the topic for more information.
As part of B.C.'s efforts to achieve equivalency with federal methane emission reduction regulations, the Commission has introduced a new Public Request for Investigations Form. The form supports recent amendments to Part 5, Division 3.1, Public Requests for Investigation under the Oil and Gas Activities Act, the new Investigations Regulation, and enhances the Commission's existing regulatory framework governing methane emissions.
B.C. is working closely with the federal government on an equivalency agreement with the goal of standing down the federal methane regulations in B.C.
On March 30, 2019, the Government of Canada published An Agreement on the Equivalency of Federal and British Columbia Regulations Respecting the Release of Methane from the Upstream Oil and Gas Sector in British Columbia, 2020. The proposed equivalency agreement and related information is published on the Canadian Environmental Protection Act Registry.
A proposed Order Declaring that the Provisions of the Regulations Respecting Reduction in the Release of Methane and Certain Volatile Organic Compounds (Upstream Oil and Gas Sector) Do Not Apply in British Columbia and an accompanying Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement were published on June 15, 2019.
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 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 (updated in January 2020 with erratum), and an anonymized data table is also available.
The study was led by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy 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.
The Commission has released a new Leak Detection and Repair Data Collection Template as a complement to its Fugitive Emissions Management Guideline. Both the template and the guideline are intended to support the new leak detection and repair requirements of the Drilling and Production Regulation effective Jan. 1, 2020.
The new data collection template is intended to be used as a tool to facilitate data collection for later upload into eSubmission. The first set of data is to be provided to eSubmission by May 31, 2021.
What is happening next?
The Commission is working on amending the Flaring and Venting Reduction Guideline and is developing a new vent data collection template to complement the amended guideline.
Check this page for future updates.