Reducing Fugitive Emissions - The Role of Touchless™ Monitoring for Leak Detection and Repair in Oil & Gas

The oil & gas industry contributes a significant share of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Much of these emissions are in the form of methane, a highly potent but short-lived GHG that is responsible for as much as 30 percent of the rise in global temperatures. 

Methane gas leaks are a persistent challenge with the potential for long-term financial and regulatory risk. While it is difficult to quantify the total volume of methane released due to leaks, a recent study found that 40 percent of human-caused methane leaks came from fossil fuel exploration, production, and transportation.

As regulatory pressure and internal sustainability goals push companies to reduce the environmental impact of their activities, traditional approaches to leak detection and repair (LDAR) are no longer enough. Periodic site visits can allow leaks to persist undetected in between inspections, while handheld equipment and other sensors are often highly sensitive to wind, weather, and proximity to the leak itself.

Instead, oil & gas companies need a new approach to LDAR that enables early detection, verification, and repair of leaks across the production process.

The Impact of Fugitive Emissions

The fossil fuel industry produced 121 million tonnes of methane in 2022, with more than 260 billion cubic metres of natural gas wasted through flaring and methane leaks globally. 

Fugitive emissions can be defined as “the unintentional and undesirable emission, leakage, or discharge of gasses or vapors,” such as methane, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), or other pollutants.

While leaks can be found at any stage of the production process, they commonly occur in pressure-containing equipment or components such as valves, flanges, pumps, piping, or compressors. One company survey found that storage tanks alone accounted for 40 percent of the volume of methane accidentally released due to leaks.

Undetected leaks can have long-lasting and severe financial, regulatory, and legal consequences. In the US, for example, new regulations mean that companies will be charged $900 a tonne for methane leaks from 2024, rising to $1,500 a tonne in 2026. If those fines were already in place, a recent leak in the US would have incurred a cost of $220,000 per hour. 

Other regions are implementing similar measures as part of a global pledge to reduce methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030, demonstrating the need for oil & gas companies to continue to improve their LDAR strategies.

The Limitations of Traditional Approaches to LDAR

While the industry is starting to shift, physical inspections are still among the most common approaches to identifying and localizing leaks. Depending on the jurisdiction, these inspections may be mandated as part of regulatory and compliance requirements, though some companies may decide to conduct inspections more frequently than required. In Alberta, for example, regulations require one to three site visits per year.  

In addition to mandated physical inspections, many companies have implemented gas detection technologies such as sniffers, auditory cameras, pressure gauges, and other equipment. Some use audio, visual, and olfactory (AVO) inspections to observe and detect damage or leaks.

However, each of these approaches has significant limitations. Periodic inspections are expensive and time-consuming and increase the likelihood of a gas leak opening up and going undetected in between visits. They can also put personnel at risk if there is an unknown leak or other fault that could cause a catastrophic failure. In some cases, equipment must be shut down to allow safe access to the site.

On the other hand, sniffers and other solutions are typically highly sensitive to wind, weather conditions, and proximity to the leak, reducing the ability to detect and locate issues.

The Role of Touchless™ Monitoring for LDAR

Instead of relying solely on physical inspections and unreliable equipment, oil & gas companies can enhance LDAR with continuous monitoring.

By leveraging thermal, visual, and optical gas imaging (OGI) sensors, oil & gas companies can immediately verify and locate the leak, quantify the volume, colourize the plume for easy visualization, and conduct root cause analysis for repairs.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning immediately alert crews to a potential leak and estimate the total volume of gas released. A wide coverage area and long detection range mean that a single camera can cover multiple pieces of equipment, reducing the cost of installing and operating the sensors.

Compared to alternative approaches, continuous monitoring is a cost-effective, reliable, and easy-to-deploy solution for LDAR across oil & gas facilities.  

Reducing Emissions and Enhancing Productivity

A recent IEA survey suggested that emissions could be reduced by over 75 percent just by implementing continuous LDAR programs and upgrading leaky equipment  

Beyond the environmental benefits, improved leak detection and repair mitigates regulatory risk, enhances productivity, reduces lost revenue from wasted product, and improves the safety of workers and surrounding communities.

Through Touchless™ Monitoring solutions, oil & gas companies can overcome the limitations of physical inspections and enable continuous, 24/7 monitoring of high-value assets.