FLIR Gas Detection and Other Optical Gas Cameras Key to Proposed EPA Regulations

August 21, 2015

Optical Gas Imaging (OGI) technology such as FLIR’s GF320 and GF300 are an important part of the EPA’s new proposal for reducing methane and other VOCs in the Oil and Gas Industry. OGI offers the highest efficiency, improved safety, and is unique in its ability to find the large leaks, or Super-Emitters, quickly.

In the August 18 announcement of its new proposal, the US Environmental Protection Agency says it has identified optical gas imaging (OGI) as a “Best System of Emission Reduction” for detecting fugitive methane emissions from new equipment installation, upgrades, and modified sources.

The EPA plan targets fugitive methane leaks, which are among the largest sources of emissions from oil and gas producers. Finding and fixing leaks is a significant step to reducing methane’s environmental impact. Ultimately, the goal of the EPA proposal is to help achieve the President’s Climate Action Plan of cutting methane emissions from oil and gas production to 45 percent below 2012 levels within the next 10 years.

Under current regulations, oil and gas companies must follow the EPA’s Method 21, governing leak detection and repair. The Method 21 tool of choice is toxic vapor analyzers that “sniff” for gas at every potential escape point. Once a surveyor detected a leak, he would need to investigate further to determine its exact source.

Optical gas imagers such as the FLIR GF320 employ specialized infrared filters which allow them to “see” gas as it escapes. This visual confirmation helps plant operators pinpoint the exact source of methane leaks and begin the repair process immediately. The OGI method improves worker safety by allowing camera operators to check for hazardous plumes from a safe distance before beginning closer scans.

Because infrared cameras can detect gas leakage anywhere within their field of view, OGI inspections are more efficient than Method 21 surveys. In fact, during a field study conducted for the City of Fort Worth, surveyors determined that scanning with infrared cameras was at least nine times faster than performing Method 21 scans on the same site equipment.

This improved speed makes it easier for companies to perform surveys more often. The EPA notes that more frequent inspections and repairs can reduce fugitive methane and VOC emissions significantly. For example, quarterly surveys can cut emissions by 80 percent, while semi-annual monitoring surveys and repairs can reduce emissions by 60 percent.

One company relying on OGI to seek out fugitive gas leaks is Jonah Energy in Wyoming. Jonah deploys OGI camera operators to scan its 1700 well heads and 150 central distribution points. The team inspects the facilities every month and makes yearly inspections of each well head.

“We wouldn’t be able to find leaks as efficiently as we do without OGI,” says Jonah Environmental Field Technician, Pat Mack. “We’d have to rely on old technology, which wouldn’t allow us to be as proactive as we are. It’s good for the bottom dollar if we can keep the gas within the system.”

Since Jonah started using OGI as part of its emission reduction program, the company has reduced fugitive emissions by 75 percent. In the last five years it reduced repair time by 85 percent, cut labor, and cut its gas losses significantly. Emissions in tons have gone from 351 down to 31. Based on a cumulative effect, Jonah’s savings have exceeded $5 million to date. That more than pays for the cost of all repairs and labor – including the cost of the cameras and the people operating them.

The environmental benefits are also significant. An estimated eight million metric tons of methane is lost annually in the course of oil and gas production, doing more damage to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. The EPA rates the global warming potential of methane at 80 times greater than CO2 in the first 20 years after its release into the atmosphere. Over 100 years, methane has a global warming potential that’s 25 times more powerful than CO2.

The EPA says taking action at ten to 20 percent of sites with methane leaks would lead to a 60 percent reduction in emissions. But rather than balking at the idea of stricter methane regulations, many oil and gas companies are voluntarily buying OGI cameras and paying for training, all in an effort to catch these fugitive emissions.

Jonah’s Pat Mack has a simple answer to explain why the industry’s increased willingness to get on board with OGI.

“Stopping leaks is not only good for the environment, but the fact that we’re keeping gas in the pipes, and we make money with the gas that we save,” he says.

To learn more about FLIR’s entire line of optical gas imagers and read application success stories, download FLIR’s Gas Detection: The Professional Guide.