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Identifying and reducing methane emissions through digital inspection


Identifying and reducing methane emissions through digital inspection

The recently released Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is influencing how the energy industry will approach facility operations and maintenance. With a potential for new and existing facilities to be subjected to a methane emissions charge, there is an increasing focus on how operators will identify, reduce, and track their emissions going forward. - Rigzone

A commonly accepted method for assessing methane venting penalties is based on statistical models that estimate the expected emissions of a facility based on the gas throughput, gas pressure, and the number of flanges, connectors, pressure regulators, etc. in that facility. However, this method does not accurately reflect the maintenance and inspection practices of the operators.

For instance, a facility run by a cautious operator with a well-established preventative maintenance program will likely emit less methane than reflected in calculations based on statistical models, resulting in the operator overpaying for methane emissions. Instead, operators should begin with a baseline understanding of their carbon performance, so they can then identify the best solutions to deliver on their decarbonization goals and ultimately reduce or prevent incurring any methane emissions charges.

There are several solutions based on a balance of technical, commercial, and practical drivers that can be applied toward decarbonizing the everyday operations of a facility or asset. Here are a few practical steps on how to improve the integrity of new and existing infrastructure and ultimately reduce unwanted emissions.

Begin by establishing a baseline of your current infrastructure and applying a digital solution to inspect the facility or asset to identify where problems are already occurring or have a potential to occur. Robots and drones equipped with cameras and sensors can be deployed to capture high-resolution imaging and data to indicate with high levels of accuracy where anomalies or trouble areas are located.

Next, look to address potential failures with ongoing maintenance and repairs to pre-existing infrastructures. Being equipped with the data of where operational anomalies are occurring, or are at risk to occur, is just the first step. Applying those insights to reinforce and modify equipment is where the difference is really made.

Planning for ongoing maintenance and routine services through scheduled shutdowns and turnarounds can prevent the need for emergency repairs and disruptions to operations later. Additionally, by investing the time in preventative services and applying the data-driven information gathered to prioritize focus areas in a facility requiring the most attention, you can ensure the facility will continue to operate at a higher efficiency with lower fugitive carbon emissions.

Finally, ongoing inspections with autonomously operating robots can track the performance and progression of an aging infrastructure over time to identify corrosion, slow leaks and other gradually evolving issues that could pose a problem later. This takes condition monitoring from being a passive reporting process to an active intervention process, adding significant value to the operations. Additionally, by utilizing digital monitoring solutions that capture in-depth data analysis, anomalies can be detected earlier on than when a human inspector may observe them.

Continuous monitoring of vibration, temperature, and other key data from thousands of points throughout a facility or asset can enable operators to quickly identify any anomalies that could indicate possible leaks and allows them to respond to these changes quickly. A couple of examples of operators that have benefitted from this type of monitoring are a gas plant that was able to identify methane leaks around its compressors and a coal processing plant that could see via digital modelling that there was significant insulation loss within its operating reactor. In both instances, the operators were able to respond to and repair the identified issues in an efficient manner, allowing them to maintain normal operations at their facilities and prevent potential equipment failures.

This monitoring can also be complemented with acoustic emission inline inspections, where state-of-the-art monitoring technology includes sensitive acoustic devices that can “listen” for leaks. This is a smart approach that fortifies existing monitoring solutions.

Older assets face more complex challenges in reducing emission intensity. It is often less efficient and logistically and economically challenging to replace or revamp pre-existing infrastructure. However, these aging parts and equipment can contribute to fugitive emissions as they fail or degrade. In addition to the environmental benefits of investing in decarbonization practices, taking a more assertive approach to addressing emissions can be commercially beneficial and cost-effective, increasing output and reducing lost value.

Digital solutions have a major part to play in decarbonization, from the technologies to generate and deliver new energy sources to the innovations that will transform how we use them. Leveraging data and these digital solutions can also offer a less capital-intensive route to optimizing operational performance, targeting energy production, and minimizing waste.

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