The innovators
who are reducing
methane emissions

The innovators
who are reducing
methane emissions

Today, natural gas and methane can seem inseparable. After all, methane is the largest component of natural gas.

While natural gas can help power modern life with fewer emissions compared to coal, unintended methane leaks that make their way into the atmosphere can contribute to climate change.

ExxonMobil is working to help address society’s dual challenge: How to provide the energy the world needs while also mitigating the risks of climate change.

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As part of helping to address society’s dual challenge, ExxonMobil has undertaken an unprecedented industry-leading effort to reduce methane emissions from its upstream operations. It is a resource-intensive enterprise. The work is painstaking, and success depends on finding, testing and scaling the latest technologies. Behind this effort is a team of experts and the solutions that they find may be helpful to others’ response to their own methane leaks.

One such team of methane detection experts is ExxonMobil’s team in the Permian Basin – a large sedimentary basin spanning western Texas and southeastern New Mexico. Here is their story.

Clara Benavides

Lead, Air Compliance Group, Permian Basin

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Heather Child

Lead, Air Compliance Group, Permian Basin

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Matt Kolesar

Chief Environmental Scientist

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opening quote opening quote opening quote This is more than just a job – this feels personal. I can see our operations and how we manage our methane emissions. It makes me proud to work for a company that has stepped up and taken this so seriously.

Every day ExxonMobil employees are researching ways to reduce methane emissions from our upstream operations. It is a goal shared across the company and the results are also shared broadly among some industry collaborators.

Every day ExxonMobil employees are researching ways to reduce methane emissions from our upstream operations. It is a goal shared across the company, and results are shared broadly so everyone can learn from each other and advance the learnings.

The work entails:

  • Leading the call for voluntary measures that go beyond current regulations

  • Conducting leak inspections and repair surveys in the field

  • Upgrading existing equipment throughout the supply chain

  • Applying the latest information to new facility designs to minimize emissions

  • Working with new technology providers for innovative solutions

  • Culling vast data to better evaluate standard working procedures

Matt Kolesar

Chief Environmental Scientist

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Achieved 15% reduction in corporate methane emissions versus 2016 levels.

The challenge

The challenge

The shale development renaissance of the last decade has transformed America’s energy landscape, especially in places like Appalachia, West Texas and New Mexico. A network of drilling rigs, pipelines and storage and processing facilities spanning thousands of miles makes it all work.

These fields, like the Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico, are some of the most remote areas of the United States. They’re sparsely populated, dusty and battered by relentless wind and heat. To find a methane leak in these conditions, across such vast acreage, is not simple.

Methane is odorless and colorless, as well. When leaked, there are only a small number of methane molecules for the volume of surrounding air. A gust of wind can easily disperse those molecules, obscuring the source.

To date, voluntary programs and regulations (where they exist) depend on inspectors with specialized methane-detecting cameras visiting each site periodically to point the cameras at each potential source. To improve upon this time consuming and often logistically difficult monitoring process, ExxonMobil has tested drones, aircraft and even satellites for flyovers. The company has also installed sensors on some ground-based infrastructure, capturing reams of data for analysts to investigate methane leaks.

Improving the means to find and fix leaks faster takes human power, hardware, software and patience.

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Heather Child

Lead, Air Compliance Group, Permian Basin

opening quote opening quote opening quote I think the work is important because we have a role to play. I truly believe it is important to be a good neighbor. We manage many environmental issues and the progress I help achieve on methane can be applied to all of industry.

A view from the field

The Technology

Right now, there isn’t a single solution that can address unintended methane leaks, but the more tools available and people involved, the easier it can be to figure out what works.

One of the most important steps in addressing such a wide-ranging challenge is bringing outside thinkers to the table. That is why ExxonMobil has been proactive in working with third-party tech companies that are developing new ways of zeroing in on methane emissions.

From new imaging devices attached to drones and planes, to sophisticated sensors fixed and mounted to infrastructure in the field, the technology advances are adding new tools to the methane detection toolbox. The data, when analyzed, allows for quicker responses to unintended leaks and even better insight into equipment maintenance programs.

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Matt Kolesar

Chief Environmental Scientist

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Matt Kolesar

Chief Environmental Scientist

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voluntary leak surveys on more than 5.2M components at more than 9,500 sites since initiating the voluntary methane reduction program

Heather Child

Lead, Air Compliance Group, Permian Basin

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ExxonMobil continues to push for innovative solutions and today is testing new technologies with industry stakeholders. Specifically, the company is involved in a new study called Project Falcon, a pilot program to test and implement cost-effective, continuous methane emissions monitoring. By using sensors to monitor on-the-ground infrastructure, crews can then pinpoint emissions and leaks.

With Project Falcon, some natural gas production and processing facilities will be surrounded by these sensors, which would trigger an alert so that personnel can be dispatched to that specific spot to mitigate the problem.

It is the technological equivalent of finding needles in a haystack with a magnet, rather than countless attempts with your fingers alone.

Matt Kolesar

Chief Environmental Scientist

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opening quote opening quote opening quote I've been in this industry for almost 30 years. And this is by far the most rewarding role I've had. At a refinery we had systems to find leaks, but that was at a dense facility in a confined area. Trying to do the same across the vast areas of the upstream is a different animal altogether.

The Company’s Commitment

All of this takes time, people and investment. It takes leadership, dedication and belief in a possible solution. ExxonMobil has embraced all of these to address methane emissions across our U.S. unconventional operations.

Between 2016 and 2020, the company eliminated more than 67,000 tonnes of methane from its U.S. unconventional operations. This was achieved in part by deploying voluntary leak detection, enhancing its operations, upgrading old equipment, training workers and investing in technologies.

When regulations from the federal government were relaxed or eliminated in 2020, ExxonMobil continued, and enhanced, its approach to clamp down on methane emissions. And the company believes that advances in reducing methane emissions in operations could be applied to other producers, no matter their size.

ExxonMobil’s efforts will continue into the future with potential new technology and dedicated workers to reduce methane emissions in our operations to help address society’s dual challenge of providing the energy the world needs while also mitigating the risks of climate change.

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Heather Child

Lead, Air Compliance Group, Permian Basin

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