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How can we reduce the carbon footprint of our oil and gas infrastructure?

June 28, 2021

By Peter Bortolin and Nathan Ashcroft

7 ways the oil and gas industry can make its infrastructure cleaner, greener, and more sustainable

The energy and resources industry is undergoing one of the most significant shifts in generations. This is the transition towards green energy—or renewable energy, created from natural resources, that does not release greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions during production.

Experts from every industry are searching for ways to reduce emissions and become more sustainable. The same is true with the oil and gas sector, and it has our clients asking: “What can we do now to reduce the carbon footprint of our facilities and pipeline infrastructure?”

After all, we will not be able to build our way to a net-zero future overnight. We’ll have to rely on our oil and gas infrastructure for years to come. So, what steps can the oil and gas industry take now to reduce GHG emissions and strive towards a more sustainable future?

There are several ways that oil and gas operators can reduce the carbon footprint of their facilities and pipeline infrastructure.

1. Reducing fugitive—and unnecessary—emissions

One of the most fundamental ways that you can reduce the carbon footprint of your oil and gas facility is to eliminate fugitive and unnecessary emissions. Fugitive emissions are emissions that are lost due to inefficient infrastructure. You can reduce these emissions through effective maintenance planning to check valves, seals, gauges, hoses, and more. The best part of reducing the release of fugitive emissions: If you can capture them, you can redirect them to supplement the energy stream at your facility—and possibly even for the nearby power grid!

Other unnecessary GHG emissions include emissions stemming from gas actuated valves. By retrofitting your facility with electric actuated valves, you can help reduce the carbon footprint one flip-of-the-switch at a time. 

As we continue our march towards a green energy future, we need to find ways to make our existing energy infrastructure cleaner and more sustainable.

2. Carbon capture technologies

A key method for reducing GHG emissions is preventing those emissions from being released in the first place. This is made possible through carbon capture and storage technologies, or carbon capture and sequestration. This is the process of capturing waste carbon dioxide, transporting it to a storage site, and depositing it where it will not enter the atmosphere.

Understanding where to capture carbon in a given process is critical. Only then can you begin working out which technology to use. However, perhaps most importantly, determining where the carbon will go is the most challenging aspect. Most carbon capture projects today either compress the CO2 and sequester it deep underground or utilize it to enhance oil recovery. But more options should become available as the technology evolves.

3. Integrating renewable energy

A great way to reduce the carbon footprint of your oil and gas infrastructure is to integrate renewable energy wherever possible. Whether implementing wind power, solar power, or even blending hydrogen with fuels (which we’ll get to later), you can find ways to cut back on the overall emissions at your facilities. This could include such actions as using energy from wind or solar units to supplement power for the electric actuation of valves, gauges, and more. Anytime you can use clean, renewable energy, take advantage of it. 

A great way to reduce the carbon footprint of your oil and gas infrastructure is to integrate renewable energy wherever possible.

4. The use of biogas

Biogas is the mixture of gases produced when organic matter breaks down in the absence of oxygen—or anaerobically—and primarily consists of methane and carbon dioxide. Biogas can be renewably produced from raw materials such as agricultural waste, manure, municipal waste, plant material, sewage, green waste, or food waste. After it has been treated, Biogas can be used to power facilities, operations, and even vehicles! Not only does biogas provide renewable energy, but the production of it also reduces the amount of physical waste at landfills.

5. Taking advantage of geothermal energy

Another renewable way that oil and gas operators can reduce emissions is by using geothermal energy. Geothermal energy is heat derived within the sub-surface of the earth. Water and/or steam carry the geothermal energy to the Earth's surface for our use. Depending on its characteristics, we can use this geothermal energy for heating and cooling purposes. Better yet, it can be harnessed to generate clean electricity!

6. Blending hydrogen into our energy infrastructure

One of the most interesting trends that we’ve been witnessing lately is the introduction of hydrogen into our energy infrastructure. This development is of great import to the oil and gas industry as hydrogen can be blended with oil and natural gas to reduce the GHG emissions associated with burning those fuels. Plus, with carbon capture technologies, we can prevent emissions from being released into the atmosphere and redirect them for other purposes.

There are still setbacks to hydrogen, such as cost, storage capabilities, and regulations. But the careful adoption of it within present oil and gas infrastructure will help the industry reduce its carbon footprint while striving to achieve green energy solutions.

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PipeWATCH™ is a revolutionary tool that’s made possible by the power of small satellites and their ability to take high-resolution images of the Earth’s surface. These small satellites monitor vegetation that is growing above and around buried pipeline infrastructure daily. That tells us not only where a leak occurs, but when!

7. Embracing innovative technology

Perhaps the most important thing that you should take advantage of wherever possible: Innovation and technology. Oftentimes, people like stick with what has worked in the past. But we implore you to always be looking for new and innovative technologies so that you can stay ahead of the game. Digital tools, artificial intelligence, and even satellite technology can help your oil and gas infrastructure become more efficient—and they can even help drive down GHG emissions. But how?

Artificial intelligence, or AI, can be implemented at oil and gas facilities to optimize the energy mix on site. This means that AI can control when to use gas, electric, or renewable energy to ensure the infrastructure is performing to its highest efficiency. Furthermore, tools like the Stantec-designed PipeWATCH™—a revolutionary remote sensing technology that uses satellites to monitor for oil and gas leaks—can help you reduce emissions and risks to the environment by finding leaks more quickly and eliminating the GHG emissions associated with monitoring via planes or ATVs.

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The energy and resources industry is undergoing one of the most significant shifts in generations—the transition towards green energy infrastructure.

To make power, comes great responsibility

As we continue our march towards a green energy future, we need to find ways to make our existing energy infrastructure cleaner and more sustainable. The world still needs oil and gas infrastructure, and it will continue to need it for decades to come. So, now is the time to start figuring out how we can bridge the energy transition more effectively—and we all have a role to play here.

Above, we went through several ways that oil and gas operators can reduce the carbon footprint of their facilities and pipeline infrastructure. We hope to see these methods being used more frequently as we hone in on our net-zero targets heading forward. 

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  • Peter Bortolin

    From cross-country transmission pipelines to refinery processes, Peter leads our oil and gas work in Ontario and Quebec. As a project manager, engineer, and business developer, Peter revitalizes aging assets and supports renewables such as biogas.

    Contact Peter
  • Nathan Ashcroft

    As a strategic business developer, Nathan is always looking for ways to improve our ability to help our clients. That’s involved expanding our geographical business as well as researching new applications of existing products like bitumen.

    Contact Nathan
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