Dominion Rolls Out Methane-Reduction Plan

Mapping gas pipeline leaks.

Dominion Energy has announced a plan to reduce methane emissions from its natural gas infrastructure by 50% from 2010 levels over the next decade. The voluntary initiative will prevent more than 430,000 metric tons of methane from entering the atmosphere, the equivalent of taking 2.3 million cars off the road or planting nearly 180 million new trees.

“We recognize we need to do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to further combat climate change,” said Diane Leopold, President and CEO of Dominion Energy’s Gas Infrastructure Group. “We’ve made significant progress, but we’re determined to go much further..”

The Richmond-based energy company did not say how much it expected to spend on the initiative. Assuming a value of $5 per million BTUs, and a conversion rate of roughly 50 million BTUs per ton, the projected savings to the company would amount to about $250 per ton or $107.5 million.

The initiative addresses a major criticism of the natural gas industry: that, although gas combustion releases less CO2 than coal combustion, when leaks from gas pipeline infrastructure are taken into account, the switch from coal to natural gas does little to combat global warming. Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. (That particular framing of the issue does not take into account methane emissions from coal mines, some of which vent massive quantities of methane.)

Dominion, which maintains one of the largest gas pipeline networks in the country, is positioning the initiative as part of a broader policy to reduce greenhouse gases including CO2. The plan builds on previous measures that have cut methane emissions by 180,000 metric tons.

Dominion touted the methane-reduction initiative as raising the bar for the natural gas industry. The company said it will pursue three broad strategies:

  • Reducing or eliminating gas venting during planned maintenance and inspections.
  • Replacing older equipment across its system with new, low-emission equipment.
  • Expanding leak detection and repair programs across its system.

“Thanks to advances in technology and innovations in our operating procedures, we can capture methane on a much larger scale than we could have ten years ago,” said Mark Webb, Dominion Energy’s Chief Innovation Officer in the announcement. “We’ve tested and proven these technologies in some parts of our infrastructure, and now we’re dramatically expanding them across the entire system.”

Leopold cited a program to replace natural gas-powered pumps at gas-producing wells with solar-powered electric pumps, which reduce methane emissions by more than 90%.

The announcement did not mention how the program might affect the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline compressor turbine in the African-American Union Hill community of Buckingham County. Local residents had asked Dominion to use solar power to drive the pumps rather than natural gas, the emissions from which they claimed could impact the health of local residents.

“Dominion Energy’s announcement to cut methane leakage and venting is an impactful, cost-effective solution to address climate change,” said Bob Perciasepe, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (successor to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change). “Their targeted strategy to cut their methane emissions in half through better venting practices, installation of new equipment, and enhanced leak detection with advanced infrared flare cameras is an example of clear, positive steps that can be taken by companies with natural gas assets to reduce their emissions footprint.”

Update: The Chesapeake Climate Action Network derides the Dominion initiative as “laughable.” Stated Virginia Director Harrison Wallance in a statement issued this afternoon:

“Nice try. The best way for Dominion to reduce methane emissions is to abandon its plans to build its controversial and unnecessary $7.5 billion pipeline. Dominion’s announcement will avoid 430,000 metric tons of methane from entering the atmosphere (36.98 million tons of C02e) over the ten-year period. The ACP will far more than offset that gain, emitting nearly 68 million metric tons of planet-warming gases (C02e) into the atmosphere on an annual basis.

“It’s refreshing that Dominion acknowledges that methane is harmful to our planet. But, if Dominion wants to make real and significant progress towards a stable climate, they should stop building the ACP and killing ambitious clean energy measures in the General Assembly.  We’ll know they’re serious about climate change if they start taking meaningful action to build a grid that is powered by 100% renewable energy.”

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10 responses to “Dominion Rolls Out Methane-Reduction Plan

  1. So what about the cattle farts? Are they going to propose something for that to make AOC happy?

  2. You cast it as $107 million in savings, but cannot it also be viewed as $107 million in additional revenue? The gas not leaked makes its way to a paying customer. As with any other conservation measure, the question is how quickly the investment breaks even. Sounds like these improvements are getting there, which is great.

  3. Wait… this cannot play well with investors..

    and what the HEY… Dominion believes in Global Warming… sheesh!

  4. For many communities across the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, this is nice but doesn’t help. Many do not currently have methane emissions. If the ACP is built, they will have more.

    Actually, the Buckingham community asked for electric equipment at the Union Hill Compressor Station instead of gas equipment. Dominion has generation facilities at nearby Bremo Bluff, but since it is building the pipeline mostly through territory served by electric cooperatives, it would have to build new line to use their power or buy from the local cooperative. It preferred using gas. Now the community is asking for solar to drive electric equipment.

    Initially, we were told that every inch of the pipeline would be continuously monitored by state of the art fiber broadband. However, that feature was dropped in favor of last century point to point measuring/comparing technology. It is extremely rare that pipeline technology is updated once it is installed so we can expect to be stuck with last century monitoring forever.

    The general response when the community raises health and safety issues, especially related to pollution, is that our air and water are so clean that we can “afford” the pollution. They keep saying our air will still be cleaner than in many communities. However, they ignore the fact that our air will be much less clean than it is now, claiming the right to pollute and our lack of the right to keep our clean air.

  5. The touted potential reduction in raw methane leakage indicates a far greater air pollution impact from the pipeline in other ways than what one Buckingham County community might have to face from already-burned natural gas used as compressor fuel.

    Raw, unburned methane gas (CH4) is as you say a powerful greenhouse gas. It’s just one byproduct of the rotting of organic matter, in this case deep in the earth, from those ancient swamps that also gave us today’s oil and coal seams. Of course there is methane emitted from coal mines, and from fracking drill-hole leakage too. Since we are not about to stop using coal and natural gas entirely, one of the obvious things to do is to try to minimize these losses, starting with the losses from the pipelines that carry the CH4 under pressure across the country. But let’s be clear, the biggest losses are from the mines and drill-heads and gathering and collecting infrastructure out in the field. And then there are the losses from pressurized underground storage in enormous caverns and shale sands, which are unsealed around their perimeters, but absolutely essential to managing the flow during peak gas demands. The natural gas industry incurs a lot of losses even before the gas reaches an interstate pipeline. The percentage losses are substantial; they are out there to read about.

    Against that background, the percentage losses incurred by a modern gas pipeline are — minor. Don’t get me wrong; every loss is a waste. But fixed at what cost? If the gas “saved” can be sold at a price that will pay the cost of the lower-loss equipment over less than its useful life, how can anyone object? If Dominion can make this investment cost-effective and in the process embarrass some of the other pipeline companies to do likewise, all to the good.

    But even if it doesn’t pay for itself, there are many who think we should make the investment in lower-leakage equipment simply for better air quality, let alone the GW impact of CH4. How willing is Dominion to go there, too? How willing is Dominion to put pressure on upstream suppliers to reduce their (huge by comparison) losses at their well-head and gathering and storage facilities? If you really want to make a difference, there is the “low-hanging fruit.”

    The Buckingham community of Union Hill wants cleaner air. Fine, but I am unimpressed with these strident objections from others to the emissions from a compressor station powered by internal combustion engines running off natural gas as their fuel Those emissions are not CH4 but CO2 — good old carbon dioxide. What do you supposes comes out of the chimney of every home heated by a natural gas furnace? What do you suppose is the exhaust from every industrial facility that uses natural gas as fuel? This protest to CO2 emissions applies to the use of natural gas fuel for any purpose whatsoever. Recognize it for what it is: a disingenuous attempt to delay or halt the pipeline by forcing Dominion to relocate its Transco connection and its compressor station a few miles north, and go through the permitting process again to re-route the pipeline to there, and not incidentally face renewed attacks on everything else the interveners don’t like about the ACP. Perhaps the Union Hill community really doesn’t want that compressor nearby, but it was one of their own who offered the land for the compressor site to Dominion back at a time when the exact route of the pipeline was much more flexible and Dominion easily could have planned its path to cross the Transco right of way elsewhere.

    And these folks now want Dominion to power the compressors by electricity? Seriously? First of all, the compressor’s location was chosen to place it where it could be powered by gas from Transco to re-pressurize the ACP as needed. If you’re going to use electricity for that, there are dozens of other locations where you could place the compressor station, wherever there’s an existing electric transmission line crossing overhead. The idea of running a new transmission line to the Union Hill site, chosen in the first place because Transco’s gas line is there for fuel, is absurd — except from the point of view of not re-opening the permitting proceedings. That shows you what is really at stake, here.

    • The land for the compressor station was sold by absentee descendants – NOT people currently living in the area or regularly visiting. The desire for clean air is genuine. Rural people get the lowest safety and inspection standards. There are many more people living in immediate proximity to the site than shown by using average population provided in Census data. People feel erased as the company continues to insist that so few of them live there. They are worried about unmarked graves on land used for the compressor station. Folks are also concerned that the crossing of the two pipelines will make the area a terrorist target.

      Those who sold us out are people Dominion “collected” and helped create an organization to accept the money – giving some of them ways to recoup some of the value of their land lost to the pipeline but not truly addressing health, safety, or historic and environmental damage that people for miles around will suffer. Few of the Dominion supporters live there or plan to live there. Few have been involved and learned about this over the last 4.5 years. Most are newly engaged and given Dominion’s side of the story only – and poisoned against their neighbors, especially those with concerns about the pipeline and related infrastruccture. The community has been divided. The real concerns have been ignored throughout the process and landowner and descendant issues remain unaddressed.

      This is a horrible story and a horrible outcome. As a nearby landowner, I’m disgusted that that the companyfrom the start and continues to prefer to treat us as enemies and not people they will need to “deal” with for the rest of time after they insert their unwanted infrastructure in our land and ruin our futures because they ignored all of our concerns.

  6. Reducing methane leaks is potentially important for Greenhouse gas control as well as safety. We have had a utility crew in our neighborhood last several weeks, apparently checking for leaks in the streets in the manholes. Alls I could get out of them was they were contractors for the gas company doing a survey. But I favor more proactive safety/eco steps than has been done in the past.

  7. sigh… no such altruistism

  8. “We recognize we need to do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to further combat climate change,” said Diane Leopold, President and CEO of Dominion Energy’s Gas Infrastructure Group. “We’ve made significant progress, but we’re determined to go much further..”

    Good thing. Nice to see that Dominion is following industry’s lead to deal with methane … However, the truth is the oil and gas industries are trying to make sure their lives aren’t cut off before ‘their time’. The drastic reductions in the price of renewable energy and the efficacy of efficiency measures are causing them to take seriously the idea of being replaced.

    As long ago as 2014 EarthJustice published “Waste Not … Common Sense Ways to Reduce Methane Pollution.” The report suggested that methane emission could be cut in half with measures like … regular leak detection and repair, cleaning up old equipment and well release capture. The cost of this 50% reduction in emission would be less than 1% of sales. Not many paid attention. Now that regulators in CA and AZ are sending their utilities back to the drawing boards to rethink proposed new gas plants with solar and storage, efforts are being made to keep gas viable.

    Many of the oil companies have been investing in gas as part of their extended life. Exxon is one. Another, BP is reducing methane by outfitting “wells with sensors that collect massive amounts of data has, over the course of just six months, reportedly reduced methane venting from those wells by nearly 75%, increased production 20%, and reduced costs by 22%. Nice.

    We all thought burning natural gas would be a long transition bridge to clean energy. And here’s the reason that bridge is now a short bridge … if we can “cut back on methane, black carbon and other short-lived climate pollutants, it could buy time to solve the trickier problem of CO2. The short-lived gases like methane dissipate in about 10 years vs the 100+ year life of CO2, making them the 85 times more potent. Cutting back methane emissions could have a telling, near-term impact and that knowledge has galvanized the industry to deal with the very real emission escaping issues they can easily fix.”

    At the same time, warming in the Arctic is leading to a worrisome feedback loop where melting ice uncovers permafrost that releases more methane. NASA scientists were also “startled when a recent exploratory mission revealed a huge and rapidly-growing cavity on the underside of one of Antarctica’s glaciers—signaling that the ice mass has been melting much faster than experts realized. The cavity is two-thirds the size of Manhattan—large enough to have contained about 14 billion tons of ice before it melted, the scientists believe the melting occurred in the last 3 years.”

    So, reducing leaking methane emissions is good, but investing in long-term natural gas infrastructure like electricity plants and pipelines, responsible for 43% of all methane emissions, and which have a life expectancy of 50+ years, appears to be madness. We could spend the same monies building offshore wind, community solar, and making our buildings efficient. Gas has a role to play but that role needs to be a ”limited and balanced” use. (The Natural Gas Gamble A Risky Bet on America’s Future UCS, 2015)

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