One of the Alberta Climate Leadership Plan (ACLP) pillars is introducing a methane emission reduction plan. The Alberta Climate Leadership Panel set the goal of reducing methane emissions from oil and gas operations by 45% by 2025.
DRAFT ALBERTA REGULATORY APPROACH
Requirements relating to emissions from oil and gas activities are set out in various directives and informational letters issued by the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), including technical requirements for measuring and reporting emissions associated with wells, pipelines, and facilities. The most relevant directive is Directive 060: Upstream Petroleum Industry Flaring, Incinerating, and Venting (Directive 060), which currently does not impose prescriptive requirements for emissions reductions or include specific methane standards. The AER has been working on its Climate Policy Assurance Program to develop a regulatory framework to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations. The AER has proposed its regulatory approach to address methane emissions measurement, monitoring, and reporting by introducing draft revisions to Directive 017: Measurement Requirements for Oil and Gas Operation (Directive 017) and Directive 060. The proposed changes do not amount to a significant shift from the current approach to the measurement, monitoring, and reporting of emissions in Alberta. Even with the revisions to Directive 060, the AER maintains a performance-based approach to emissions reductions. The AER states it expects that “the upstream petroleum industry will pursue continuous improvement in reducing solution gas flaring, incineration, and venting” (page 11). Venting is not considered an acceptable alternative to flaring. To the extent it occurs, it must meet the requirements set in Section 8 of Directive 060, which sets vent gas limits and fugitive emissions management requirements (but lacks the prescriptive nature of the new federal methane regulations).
Under the proposed amendments to Directive 060, there will be an overall vent gas limit for routine (i.e. part of normal operations) and non-routine venting. It should be noted that the AER recommends, but does not require, the elimination of all routine venting. The overall vent gas limit at a site is to be set at 15.0 103m3 of vent gas per month or 9.0 103 kg of methane per month (this is the total of all routine and non-routine vent gas). Vent gas from pneumatic devices, compressor seals, and glycol dehydrators are excluded from this limit until January 1, 2023. Further, in Section 8.6 of Directive 060, there are some equipment-specific vent gas limits for pneumatic devices, compressor seals, and glycol dehydrators proposed:
Pneumatic Devices: Vent gas must be controlled for pneumatic devices installed on or after January 1, 2022. Any pneumatic devices installed before January 1, 2022, must be retrofitted with a low vent alternative.
Compressor Seals: Compressor seals must be tested annually. Effective January 1, 2022, reciprocating compressors must measure a vent gas rate of no more than 5.00 m3/hr/throw. With respect to centrifugal compressor seals installed on or after January 1, 2022, must limit vent gas rate to < 3.40 m3/hr/throw. Those installed before January 1, 2022, must limit vent gas to < 10.20 m3/hr/throw.
Glycol Dehydrators: Glycol dehydrators installed or relocated after January 1, 2022, must emit less than 68kg methane/day, with a fleet average methane emissions rate from glycol dehydrators operating before January 1, 2022, to less than 109 kg methane/day.
Aside from these equipment-specific limits, the overall vent gas limit on a site basis applies to methane emissions. While the AER will require the preparation of a Methane Reduction Retrofit Compliance Plan (MRRCP), there are no prescriptive requirements to adopt certain technology designed to reduce and prevent leaks of methane. In addition to developing an MRRCP, operators must document a Fugitive Emissions Management Program (FEMP) designed to reduce fugitive emissions. Under the proposed amendments to Directive 060, there will be some monitoring and reporting requirements. Depending on the facility or equipment type, an operator must conduct fugitive emissions surveys either once (annually) or three times (tri-annually) a year. A survey must look at equipment components; tank-top equipment; surface casing vents and the area around the wellbore; equipment used to destroy vent gas; and equipment used to conserve vent gas (using the methodologies specified in Directive 060). Where fugitive emissions surveys are not required, the operator must conduct an annual fugitive emissions screening at all well-sites. Screening can be conducted via:
audio, visual, or olfactory (AVO) methods;
other methods or equipment that is capable of detecting fugitive emissions, such as unmanned aerial vehicles or truck-mounted sensors; or
fugitive emission survey methods and equipment.
Leaks detected during a survey or screening require repair within 30 days (24 hours if they are causing off-lease odours, are the result of a failed pilot or ignitor on a flare stack, or have the potential to cause safety issues). In addition to operator surveys and screenings, the AER may conduct an emissions survey or screening. There is no indication in Directive 060 as to the frequency of AER conducted emissions surveys or screenings. No additional enforcement mechanisms specific to methane emissions are provided in Directive 060 (so presumably, typical AER enforcement mechanisms, such as warning and administrative sanctions, will apply). Methane emissions may be quantified via continuous metering, periodic testing, or estimates. Directive 017 sets out when continuous metering or periodic testing is required, along with acceptable methodologies. The approach to estimating methane emissions is to be set out in a forthcoming AER manual. An annual methane emissions report must be submitted to the AER by oil and gas operators.
NEW FEDERAL REGULATIONS
Similar to the Alberta government, the federal government has committed to reducing methane emissions in the oil and gas sector by 40-45% below 2014 levels by 2025. This reduction is made via two sets of regulations under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act that address methane emissions from the upstream oil and gas industry and the petroleum and petrochemical sector. The Regulations Respecting Reduction in the Release of Methane and Certain Volatile Organic Compounds (Upstream Oil and Gas Sector) were made law on April 26, 2018, and will come into effect on January 1, 2020 (with some provisions coming into effect on January 1, 2023). The Regulations Respecting Reduction in the Release of Volatile Organic Compounds (Petroleum Sector), which will apply to the petroleum and petrochemical sector, are still in draft form. Both regulations set requirements for leak detection and repair (LDAR) programs, preventative equipment, and record-keeping and reporting activities. The federal methane regulations tend to be more prescriptive than Alberta’s performance-based regulatory approach. All oil and gas facilities subject to the regulations must ensure that effective January 1, 2020, both centrifugal and reciprocating compressors must either conserve or destroy methane or meet applicable vent limits. Vent limits vary depending on the installation date, the type of compressor, and its rated brake power. Additional requirements apply for oil and gas facilities handling significant volumes (at least 60,000 m3/year). Starting in 2020, upstream oil and gas facilities must implement an LDAR program with three comprehensive inspections per year followed by necessary corrective actions. In addition, facilities must limit their vented volumes of methane to 15,000 m3 annually. With respect to pneumatic devices at these oil and gas facilities, as of January 1, 2023:
facilities using natural-gas-powered pneumatic controllers must ensure that ongoing emissions remain below 0.17m³ per hour; and
pneumatic pumps are prohibited from emitting methane where the volume of liquid being pumped exceeds 20 litres per day.
The federal methane regulations also set out comprehensive requirements for record-keeping and reporting. With these regulatory requirements, oil and gas operators will be required to inspect, repair, and retrofit (as necessary) much of their equipment to ensure methane emissions are below legislated limits.
Because the federal government has created regulatory requirements under its Canadian Environmental Protection Act, the question of federal-provincial equivalency arises. Under section 10 of that Act, an equivalency agreement with a province is allowed where that province has equivalent regulations meaning that the federal regulations are inoperative in that province. In other words, Alberta must be able to demonstrate that its methane regulations set out in the AER’s directives are equivalent to the federal methane regulations. If equivalency is not demonstrated, the federal methane regulations will apply in Alberta. So, an obvious question is: are Alberta regulations equivalent to the federal methane regulations? There are some clear differences:
While Alberta would require some surveys and screenings, this approach is much less comprehensive than the LDAR requirements set out in the federal methane regulations. The Environmental Law Centre (ELC) would like to see comprehensive, legislated LDAR requirements in Alberta’s regulations.
The Alberta regulations take a much less prescriptive approach to various sources of methane emissions than the federal regulations. From the point of view of enforcement, prescriptive requirements are more effectively monitored for compliance. It is easier to check that a particular piece of equipment meets a prescribed flow rate than to check to see if a site-specific limit is being achieved (recognizing that Directive 060 does set some equipment-specific vent limits).
Ultimately, regardless of whether Alberta’s methane regulations are judged to be lacking equivalency, focus on the end goal should not be lost. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that needs to be appropriately monitored and its emissions significantly reduced. The key is to have effective methane regulations to achieve that goal.
While Directive 060 addresses emissions from active facilities, another key factor in reducing methane emissions from oil and gas activities is regulation of leaks from suspended, abandoned and orphan facilities (a.k.a. legacy sites). These terms refer to facilities that are inactive but have not yet been reclaimed as required by the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act. While there are established requirements for the suspension and abandonment, current requirements for leak monitoring are very limited.
ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENTAL LAW CENTRE:
The Environmental Law Centre (ELC) has been seeking strong and effective environmental laws since it was founded in 1982. The ELC provides credible, comprehensive, and objective legal information regarding natural resources, energy and environmental law, policy, and regulation in Alberta. The ELC’s mission is to educate and champion for strong laws and rights so all Albertans can enjoy clean water, clean air, and a healthy environment. Our vision is a society where laws secure an environment that sustains current and future generations. As a charity, the Environmental Law Centre depends on your financial support. Help us to continue to educate and champion for strong environmental laws, through tools such as our blog and all of our other resources, so that all Albertans can enjoy a healthy environment. Your support makes a difference. Donate online today.