Above and Beyond: Offsets, Carbon Capture, and Negative Emissions Technologies

The following is the fourth part of an eight-part series to dive deeper into the eight key takeaways from the Net-Zero Emissions Opportunities for Gas Utilities report. If you are interested in the full report, you can learn more at https://www.aga.org/netzero

In February 2022, the American Gas Association (AGA) released a bold vision for the future that details how America’s natural gas, natural gas utilities and delivery infrastructure are essential to meeting our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals. Building on the industry’s ambitious Climate Change Position Statement from January 2020, Net-Zero Emissions Opportunities for Gas Utilities presents a national-level approach that leverages the unique advantages of gas technologies and distribution infrastructure.

Several modeled pathways are analyzed to underscore the range of scenarios and technology opportunities available as the nation, regions, states and communities develop and implement emissions reductions plans. The study details eight key findings including:

A mix of certified natural gas, carbon capture technologies, and carbon offsets could contribute significantly to lowering emissions.

Climate change is a defining challenge across the globe, and natural gas, natural gas utilities, and the delivery infrastructure are essential to meeting our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals. Addressing our environmental challenges will require all the tools at our disposal, and it is important to deploy the tools we have available immediately, rather than waiting for theoretically perfect technologies that may or may not emerge in the future. Fortunately, our nation’s energy system has several emission reduction solutions that can and should be deployed immediately.

One of the most promising pathways toward a cleaner energy infrastructure is the continued reduction of emissions.  Emissions from the natural gas distribution system have fallen by 69 percent since 1990 and the industry continues to leverage new and improved technology to advance further reductions.

There are major investments being made across the oil and gas industry value chain to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Some utilities are examining their gas supply procurement practices to account for environmental performance criteria across the value chain. There are a few labels used for natural gas products that meet these requirements, including ‘differentiated gas,’ ‘responsibly sourced gas,’ and ‘certified gas.’ All focus on acquiring geologic natural gas with a minimized emissions footprint that has been verified. Verification is important – it’s not enough just to put the label on it unless the spending really does result in less CO2 in the atmosphere.

Most states have a regulatory prudency requirement for “least cost” gas supply acquisition that prevents companies from selecting lower-emitting gas supplies, even if these amount to relatively cost-effective emission reduction measures in terms of dollars per tons of CO2 emitted. Amending these requirements to allow customers and utilities to voluntarily choose environmentally responsible gas could help continue to lower emissions.

An additional tool to help achieve our environmental goals is the use of carbon capture technologies. Using carbon capture allows a portion of any emissions associated with gas combustion to be captured using carbon capture and storage technologies in the industrial sector. Exhausted oil and gas wells could be repurposed, with CO2 pumped back into the wells and stored deep underground.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently endorsed carbon capture and storage as central in most scenarios for meeting the more ambitious goals laid out by the Paris agreement. The IPCC report states that “The deployment of CDR to counterbalance hard-to-abate residual emissions is unavoidable if net zero CO2 or GHG emissions are to be achieved. The scale and timing of deployment will depend on the trajectories of gross emission reductions in different sectors.”  Fortunately, companies such as Shell and Archaea Energy already have projects in the works to repurpose wells to store CO2. The Biden Administration has also invested more than $3.5 billion in carbon capture, with a goal of removing a billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year.

Carbon offsets are another tool available. Emission reductions certified by a verified third party are widely accepted as high-quality offset credits that can be bought, sold, or traded in carbon offset markets. Some examples of carbon offsets include credits for improving forest management projects, credits from livestock projects, urban forest projects to plant trees, credits for destruction or ozone-depleting substances, and more. For these to count, the emissions reductions must be a direct result of the project in question.

The advantage of an all-of-the-above approach is the potential synergies between various tools. Certified gas minimizes GHG emissions, which in turn reduces how much carbon capture will be needed. Using carbon-neutral green hydrogen for energy storage, and substituting RNG for geologic gas when practical, could further reduce emissions and help the world meet climate goals. These mitigations can be deployed quickly, making use of existing infrastructure to reduce emissions without delay.