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Zero emission technologies for pneumatic controllers in the USA: Applicability and cost effectiveness

August 1, 2016 Category: Technology

Natural gas-driven pneumatic controllers are used widely in the oil and natural gas industry to control liquid level, temperature, and pressure during the production, processing, transmission, and storage of natural gas and petroleum products. However, these devices release methane into the atmosphere. Pneumatic controllers are the second-largest source of methane from the US oil and gas industry, behind only component leaks, according to US EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory.

US Federal rules require that new continuous-bleed controllers be low-bleed (defined as designed to emit less than six standard cubic feet/hour) at production sites and compressor stations and be zero-bleed at processing plants. Unfortunately, recent measurements have demonstrated that many controllers currently in field use are emitting more than would be expected based on design specifications.

This study was undertaken to determine whether cost-effective non-emitting technologies are available to eliminate this major emissions source. We find that these technologies have evolved considerably over the past decade and are now available and actively in use in oil and gas fields in the United States and Canada. Two technologies are mature, proven, and in relatively wide use, and as we discuss in this report, these technologies provide a cost-effective way to eliminate emissions of methane and other pollutants from pneumatic controllers.

Since 2016, significant progress has occurred both in zero emissions technologies and regulations promoting the transition from natural gas driven pneumatic controllers to zero-emission controllers. The provinces of Alberta and British Columbia in Canada and the state of Colorado in the United States have implemented regulations encouraging and requiring the installations of zero-emission controllers. In 2021, Carbon Limits published an updated report that presents advancements in the zero-emission controller technologies, and newer technologies suitable in this context.