Back to Top
Skip to main content
NETL Joins Interagency Partnership To Address Major Driver of Climate Change
An oil rig at sunset.

NETL will leverage its technical expertise and successful track record of innovation to help lead a $1.3 billion interagency initiative to reduce methane emissions — a potent greenhouse gas (GHG) and major driver of climate change — across the U.S. oil and natural gas industry.

The Lab’s pivotal role in reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector is outlined in a new memorandum of understanding among the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Air and Radiation, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management and NETL.

Methane emissions are the second-largest contributor to climate change — only carbon dioxide (CO2) ranks ahead of methane as a GHG source. 

Methane has a much shorter atmospheric lifetime than CO2, but it is a much more potent GHG. The EPA estimates that one third of the warming from GHG occurring today is due to human-caused emissions of methane, which traps about 30 times as much heat in the atmosphere as CO2 over 100 years.

The EPA ranks oil and natural gas operations as the nation’s largest industrial source of methane emissions, which also contain harmful air pollutants such as volatile organic compounds and benzene, a carcinogen.

Reductions in methane emissions from the oil and gas sector are near-term actions with long-term benefits the United States can take to slow the rate of climate change and reduce levels of these pollutants,” said José Figueroa, senior management and technical advisor in NETL’s Technology Development Center.

The interagency agreement highlights the synergistic fit between NETL’s capabilities, the Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management’s Methane Mitigation Technologies Program and EPA’s statutory requirements of the Inflation Reduction Act, which established the Methane Emissions Reduction Program.

The initial steps by the partnership will aim to address methane emissions from marginal conventional wells — those that produce less than 15 barrels of oil per day or less than 90,000 cubic feet of natural gas per day. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates there are more than 695,000 marginally producing wells in the United States.

Research funded by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Department of Interior estimates that oil and gas wells in this low-production category emit approximately 11% of the total annual methane from oil and gas production in the EPA greenhouse gas inventory. However, they produce only about 0.2% of oil and 0.4% of gas in the United States, making them a disproportionate GHG emissions source compared to their energy return and a good target for environmental mitigation.

As part of the interagency agreement, NETL will leverage its core competencies, capabilities, resources and expertise to quantify and reduce methane emissions from inefficient and leaking oil and gas operations and address multiple goals in the agreement. For instance, the agreement notes that a standardized approach does not currently exist for monitoring and mitigating emissions from marginal conventional wells. 

NETL’s Research & Innovation Center, which has considerable experience in developing technology solutions to enhance the integrity of oil and gas wellbores, will collaborate with and support Federal partners, states, Tribal governments and other stakeholders by providing technical assistance and conducting applied research and development toward monitoring and mitigating methane emissions. NETL will bring to bear decades of research and applied expertise in oil and gas well technologies, including methane detection and mitigation, characterization of wellbore integrity, and the mitigation of fluid and gas leakage from wells and broader oil and gas systems.

The agreement’s scope of work also calls on NETL to complete the following:

  • Manage a grant program that will provide up to $350 million in financial and technical assistance to eligible states for mitigating methane emissions from low-producing, conventional wells by permanently plugging wells voluntarily identified by owners/operators.
  • Develop a free, open-source decision-support software framework to help states and the oil and gas industry pursue efficient and effective emissions identification, characterization and mitigation programs. The software will leverage an interactive database for advanced modeling and data-based visualizations of emission mitigation opportunities. This improved understanding of well conditions will help prioritize mitigation efforts.
  • Equip the oil and gas industry with the tools for field measurement and mitigation support. A standardized approach for measuring emissions from marginal wells does not exist, and available techniques range in performance. Small operators need guidance and field-tested performance metrics that will enable them to make informed decisions on emissions monitoring.
  • Demonstrate promising methane sensor technologies such as fiber optic sensors, passive wireless sensors and electrochemical sensors, drone-based methane sensors and aircraft-based sensors for wide-scale use in the industry.

The nation’s transition to clean energy requires a whole-of-government approach. The EPA, DOE and NETL partnership is a cooperative effort to tap each agency’s strengths and ensure that funds are distributed quickly and effectively, helping increase the efficiency of U.S. oil and gas operations and realize near-term emission reductions.

“For NETL, this collaboration is another meaningful opportunity to make real change. It also validates the importance of NETL, the only government-owned, government-operated laboratory in the national lab system, as a partner to work alongside other federal agencies and deliver solutions,” Figueroa said.

NETL is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory that drives innovation and delivers technological solutions for an environmentally sustainable and prosperous energy future. By using its world-class talent and research facilities, NETL is ensuring affordable, abundant and reliable energy that drives a robust economy and national security, while developing technologies to manage carbon across the full life cycle, enabling environmental sustainability for all Americans.