New Data Lab to Tackle Oil & Gas Greenhouse Gas Emissions Accounting

January 10, 2023

CHE PGE Allen Ravikumar Methane EEMDL Horz 1

The Energy Emissions Modeling and Data Lab will establish accurate assessments of greenhouse gas emissions across oil and gas supply chains.

The University of Texas at Austin will be home to a new multidisciplinary research and education initiative based in its Cockrell School of Engineering – the Energy Emissions Modeling and Data Lab (EEMDL) – that will address the growing need for accurate, timely, and clear accounting of greenhouse gas emissions across global oil and natural gas supply chains. Data and analysis from this new endeavor will help both public and private institutions develop climate strategies and actions informed by accurate, verified data, identifying opportunities for emissions reductions.

The lab will work with stakeholders to establish comprehensive, reliable, transparent, measurement-based greenhouse gas emissions assessments of oil and gas supply chains. The research products – consisting of protocols, software tools and emissions datasets – will be updated regularly. The lab will also offer education and training programs to help oil and gas operators, government agencies, and other stakeholders utilize the tools and data.

Several major energy companies that also are focusing on the accuracy of emissions data are sponsoring EEMDL, which will be a $50 million project. Cheniere, EQT, and Williams are the initial sponsors, with more stakeholders from the oil and gas industry, financial sector, and non-governmental organizations expected to join in the near future.

More than 100 countries, including the U.S. and members of the European Union, have pledged to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030 as part of the Global Methane Pledge. EEMDL will provide analysis and datasets in support of the objectives of the Global Methane Pledge and work collaboratively with other methane initiatives. Recent regulations in the U.S., such as the Inflation Reduction Act and rules proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency, mandate the development of measurement-based greenhouse gas emissions inventories. Domestic and international natural gas customers and the financial sector are asking for better accounting and transparency related to supply chains emissions.

“The Energy Emissions Modeling and Data Lab led by The University of Texas at Austin will provide credible greenhouse gas emissions assessments from energy supply chains,” said Roger Bonnecaze, dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering. “This critical information will support the development of robust public policies based on sound science, while training and educating stakeholders to address this complex problem.”

The initiative is co-led by Cockrell School of Engineering faculty members Dave Allen and Arvind Ravikumar. They will partner with Dorit Hammerling and Morgan Bazilian of the Colorado School of Mines’ Department of Applied Math and the Payne Institute and Daniel Zimmerle, director of the Methane Emissions Program at Colorado State University, and will run an affiliates program to foster strategic partnerships with additional global universities. Collectively, the three institutions have conducted methane emissions measurements at thousands of sites and published dozens of peer-reviewed studies.

The first major initiatives will focus on methane emissions. Significant uncertainty remains about methane emissions from oil and gas supply chains, especially regarding emission sources and how emissions change over time. Accurate and real-time information about methane emissions is critical for prompt and cost-effective intervention and emissions reductions. More detailed mapping of oil and gas sector methane emissions can have a significant impact on global mitigation efforts. 

“If you remove methane emissions from the global energy sector, you get a reduction in warming that is equivalent to taking more than a billion cars off the road,” said Allen, a professor in the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering. “And it can be done much faster and often at a lower cost than other greenhouse gas reduction efforts.”

“Developing transparent tools to integrate real-time methane measurements across oil and gas supply chains is critical to building trust in global methane accounting,” said Ravikumar, a research associate professor in the Hildebrand Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering.

The efforts to build tools and data sets for methane accounting are already underway, and EEMDL will build on this work. In its first year, EEMDL will:

  • Publish a U.S. Methane Census that integrates up-to-date measurement data across U.S. oil and gas operations. The census will be updated annually and will help serve as a benchmarking tool for various stakeholders.
  • Develop emissions reconciliation and measurement integration protocols and tools that help companies close the gap between direct measurements and engineering estimates of emissions. This tool will integrate data from monitoring systems such as satellites, aerial flyovers, continuous monitors, and operational data.
  • Create supply chain emissions analysis tools that provide estimates of methane emissions across individual oil and gas supply chains. Investors, customers, and the public can use this tool to better understand emissions associated with the production and transportation of oil and gas resources.

EEMDL researchers will publish peer-reviewed journal articles and reports aimed at educating U.S. and international regulatory agencies and analyze emissions data for participating companies. The researchers will work with Texas Engineering Executive Education to develop training and workforce development courses for the public. The inaugural course, Methane Emissions in the Natural Gas Supply Chain, will be held virtually March 22 and 24.

EEMDL’s first public event will be a virtual workshop to introduce EEMDL and to illustrate the use of tools and models to advance the characterization of methane emissions. This virtual workshop will take place at 10 a.m. Central Time, January 18, 2023 via Microsoft Teams and is open to the public. It will focus on the use of the Fugitive Emissions Abatement Simulation Tool (FEAST) model in the supplemental methane rule proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.