Over a 20-year period, methane’s impact on temperature is 86 times that of carbon dioxide and therefore contributes significantly to climate change. The oil and gas industry accounts for 70% of energy-related methane emissions.
Studies from Cornell, the University of Colorado and the University of Texas, among others, estimate highly varied methane leakage rates as a percentage of production, creating uncertainty and garnering attention from Forbes and The New York Times.
Reducing methane emissions in upstream oil and gas production is one of four policies proposed by the International Energy Agency (IEA) that “could stop the growth in global energy-related emissions by the end of this decade at no net economic cost” and help keep the increase in global mean temperature below 2 degrees Celsius. All four policies “rely only on existing technologies”, “have already been adopted and proven in several countries”, and “would not harm economic growth in any country or region”.
The IEA highlights the risk of failing to implement best practice measurement and disclosure of methane emissions in its 2012 report “Golden Rules for a Golden Age of Gas.” The IEA recommends oil and gas producers undertake a set of actions “necessary to realise the economic and energy security benefits while meeting public concerns” of unconventional gas development. One of these actions is to “eliminate venting, [and] minimise flaring and other emissions,” and it recommends producers “consider setting targets on emissions as part of their overall strategic policies to win public confidence.”
The IEA also states “public authorities need to consider imposing restrictions on venting and flaring.” A failure by companies to proactively reduce methane emissions may invite more rigorous regulations.
In November 2013 Colorado proposed new regulations, with industry support, focusing on methane emissions and requiring companies to capture 95 percent of their hydrocarbon emissions and if flaring, to burn off 98 percent of the hydrocarbons.
Approximately ninety percent of Spectra Energy’s business is natural gas gathering, processing, storage and transportation. We believe its social license to operate may be at risk, and the company has a responsibility to set clear and public emission targets. We recognize some operations may incorporate best practice management; however, the risk of leaks at high growth or select geographies can negate best practices elsewhere.
Benefits of reducing methane emissions include worker safety improvements, maximizing available energy resources, protecting human health, reducing environmental impacts, and reducing economic waste. Upgrading assets may also improve performance, making equipment more robust and less susceptible to accidents, upsets and downtime. Significant reductions in methane emissions are possible using new technologies with positive return on investment.
Resolved: Shareholders request Spectra Energy set reduction targets for methane emissions resulting from all operations under the company’s financial or operational control by October 2014.