A Knight’s Tale: How Natural Gas Companies Can Change Their Stars

“You have been weighed, you have been measured, and you absolutely have been found wanting” is a famous line from the 2001 Heath Ledger film A Knight’s Tale (Paul Bettany as Geoffrey Chaucer was the best character in the movie, but that is not the purpose of this post). But what does A Knight’s Tale have to do with the natural gas industry?

Presently, natural gas operators, whether upstream or midstream, face two distinct choices:

  • Be chivalrous (often defined as courageous and honorable) by committing to continuous emissions monitoring, or
  • Run the risk of being “weighed, measured, and found wanting” from beyond the fence line by relying on less frequent emissions detection protocols

Continuous emissions monitoring has never been more affordable, accurate, and accessible due to ongoing innovation and technological advancement. However, this presents both an opportunity and a challenge for natural gas companies.  

On the one hand, natural gas companies committed to better understanding and reducing their emissions have the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to environmental stewardship and greater transparency by installing continuous emissions monitoring devices. On the other hand, natural gas companies that choose to maintain the status quo face the challenge of defending their operations and associated emissions. The increased use of satellites, planes, drones, and OGI cameras from beyond the fence line by regulators, environmental NGOs, and perhaps even concerned members of the general public alike brings a magnifying glass to emissions profiles.

For example, at the end of January, the Environmental Defense Fund, in collaboration with Carbon Mapper, released the results of a 3-year long airborne study of Permian operators. The airborne surveys were conducted between 2019-2021 using advanced remote sensing technology and identified numerous so-called “super emitter” facilities. By EDF’s admission, the identified “super emitter” facilities comprised a small percentage of the overall number of Permian facilities surveyed. But, the reputational damage to the natural gas companies owning and operating those “super emitter” facilities and the natural gas industry was already done.

There are at least five key takeaways from the EDF study:

  1. For as long as natural gas companies continue to rely on periodic rather than continuous emissions detection protocols, they will face increasing scrutiny from regulators, environmental NGOs, and the public.
  2. Most natural gas companies can’t refute or counter third-party data, so when studies such as those mentioned earlier are released (and this is certainly not to imply that there was anything inaccurate about the EDF study), natural gas companies have little ability to defend themselves or refute the data. The narrative is automatically anchored against the industry.
  3. Even if natural gas companies embrace continuous emissions monitoring, it is not good enough to monitor only a few sites assuming that those sites are representative of the whole, given the significant variation in emissions across facilities and the potential for emissions from one facility to significantly skew an operator’s overall emissions.
  4. “Super emitter” facilities are not only an upstream problem but also a midstream problem. EDF observed that “gathering pipelines appear to be a significant source of leakage in the Permian, responsible for nearly 20% of the observed persistent super-emitters.” 
  5. As technology continues to improve, as evidenced by the granularity of data in the EDF study, natural gas companies must use only the highest fidelity, most accurate, and actionable, continuous emissions monitoring devices available to increase trust and avoid claims of “greenwashing.”

So back to A Knight’s Tale. For those unfamiliar with the film, it’s about a peasant who poses as a knight and competes in jousting tournaments. He “changes his stars” after earning the admiration and respect of the future King of England and being granted his knighthood. While not nearly as exciting as jousting tournaments, natural gas companies can “change their stars” by embracing continuous emissions monitoring and, in so doing, improving their credibility and building some much-needed trust by shifting the status quo from reliance on lo-fi periodic leak detection protocols to hi-fi continuous emissions monitoring. They can ultimately help shape a new paradigm reliant on emissions quantification rather than estimating emissions based on generic emissions factors. 

About Project Canary

Project Canary is a SaaS-based data analytics company focused on accurate corporate climate ESG data for emission-intensive industrial companies. We are the leaders in holistic environmental assessments (air, water, land, and community). Project Canary scores responsible operations, delivering independent emission profiles via high-fidelity continuous monitoring technology to provide actionable environmental performance data. Our sensor portfolio includes high-fidelity spectroscopy-based methane detection and emissions quantification for the oil and gas sectors, plus Aeris Technologies’ laser-based gas analyzers covering other emissions, including ethane, nitrous oxide, formaldehyde, ethylene oxide, benzene, and more. Formed as a Public Benefit Corporation, Project Canary’s Denver-based team of scientists, engineers, and seasoned industry operators identify and quantify areas to reduce emissions. www.projectcanary.com

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