To protect the environment and continually renew our social license to operate, we work proactively to control and reduce emissions from our operations. We collaborate internally and externally to apply best practices, tools and techniques.
Guided by our corporate Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) Philosophy and our core value to be a good neighbor, Devon works to reduce emissions from our operations. We’re focused on reducing greenhouse gases (GHGs) such as carbon dioxide and methane, as well as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nitrogen oxide (NOx) and other gases, and on reporting our progress to address stakeholders’ concerns about climate change. Doing our part to improve air quality also reduces regulatory, market and reputational risks, which in turn, can help us enhance shareholder returns.
Air emissions performance management
To ensure our compliance with all applicable federal and state laws and regulations, we invest in the latest equipment and deploy well-trained employees and contractors to carry out our emissions-reduction programs. Devon’s environmental work includes an air quality protocol that clearly defines responsibilities and requirements for communications, compliance, recordkeeping and training.
Because programs and metrics are so important to our overall performance, Devon’s Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Steering Committee monitors our performance in the context of an evolving regulatory, legal and stakeholder landscape. The steering committee advises our senior leaders on issues for consideration in enterprise risk management, stakeholder engagement and regulatory and legal compliance.
Another highly engaged group, our cross-functional EHS Council, sets Devon’s emissions reduction strategy and works closely with the ESG Steering Committee and senior leaders to ensure we implement the strategy effectively.
As part of our continuous improvement culture, Devon manages our emissions performance through a variety of mitigation strategies. We’ve steadily expanded our leak detection and repair (LDAR) program, transitioned to air-driven pneumatic controllers and reduced flaring in our highest-activity basin. We’ve also increasingly incorporated engines powered by alternative fuels into our drilling program. Devon is conducting ongoing evaluations into emissions detection and quantification technologies, and we collaborate with industry, environmental nonprofits and agency partners on emissions-reduction strategies. Together, all of this focused effort in 2019 advanced our progress on lowering GHG emissions and meeting our methane-intensity rate-reduction target.
Complying with federal and state regulations and laws for air emissions
Compliance with all applicable federal and state environmental laws and regulations is at the core of our EHS Philosophy. We have a compliance process to ensure our employees meet the requirements of Devon’s air permits in our operating areas, and we use an innovative web-enabled database that quickly distributes requirements for new and modified air permits to the people directly responsible for compliance.
Devon facilities and equipment may at times emit VOCs, NOx and other gases that are subject to state permits or emissions-authorization limits. Requirements are communicated clearly to our operating facilities as we seek to maintain compliance. Some Devon facilities are subject to annual emissions inventories, which we submit to the appropriate regulatory agencies. In states where these inventories are required, the information is publicly available.
Greenhouse gas emissions methodology and performance
Methane and other GHG emissions are considered a climate change risk that could affect Devon’s business over the long term. We focus on reducing emissions to address this stakeholder concern, as well as to ensure we’re running efficient, compliant operations. It’s so critical to Devon that we’ve made lowering these emissions a guiding principle in our EHS Philosophy and a component in our compensation program for all employees.
As part of our overall methane-management program, Devon will continue to expand our use of emissions-reduction technologies and work practices above and beyond regulatory requirements. This includes applying industry-leading tools and techniques to capture methane in our well completions and production equipment to achieve and maintain our methane-intensity rate goal.
Devon reports emissions from fuel combustion, flaring, fugitive emissions, venting and storage losses (Scope 1) and electricity consumption (Scope 2) for assets under our operational control. We collect data on GHGs (carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide) and submit annual GHG emissions according to the requirements of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Mandatory Greenhouse Gas Reporting Rule.
To be a good steward of the environment, we hold ourselves accountable for delivering visible, measurable results on our environmental performance. Our GHG emissions performance improved significantly in 2019 compared to 2018:
- GHG emissions dropped by 4% to 2.61 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e).
- Methane emissions fell by almost 10% to 29,000 metric tonnes, dropping by over 14% since 2017.
- Methane intensity, shown as a percentage of natural gas produced, fell to 0.28%. This rate is equal to the methane-intensity target we set to meet or beat by 2025.
- Total emissions inspections performed (7,346) and inspections with passing results (86%) both exceeded expectations.
Committed to reducing methane intensity
In 2019, we took the major step of voluntarily establishing a target to limit methane emissions from our oil and natural gas production operations. Devon committed to reduce our methane-intensity rate to 0.28% or lower by 2025. Our rate was 0.32% at year-end 2018.
Through expansion of our LDAR program and enhanced data precision efforts, among other initiatives, we reached our target rate in 2019. Our reported emissions metrics can fluctuate from year to year based on changes to our production mix, asset portfolio and other factors. To consistently meet or beat the target rate each year, we’ll need to apply technologies and work practices to methane emissions sources beyond what’s required by regulations, and we’re committed to doing just that.
Expanding our LDAR program
Using infrared cameras to detect leaks and confirm the effectiveness of repairs is one of our primary emissions-mitigation tactics. We’ve invested more than $1 million in optical gas imaging (OGI) cameras used to perform frequent equipment inspections to detect leaks across our operating areas. The priority is on facilities with the highest production volumes. By methodically identifying and fixing leaks, we’ve largely resolved our highest-risk issues and reduced our methane emissions over time. Devon has steadily and voluntarily expanded our LDAR program, in part by including valves, pumps and other equipment in our camera surveys. We’ll continue to survey additional facilities that don’t currently have a federal or state regulatory requirement.
Environmental operators in each Devon business unit focus primarily on conducting infrared camera surveys at our sites and then making sure repairs are successful. LDAR data has allowed us to progressively refine our proactive maintenance programs by identifying the equipment most likely to develop leaks. This has led us to install thief hatches that have a lower leak rate and focus on specific equipment failures and settings. It also enabled us to improve flare maintenance and verify performance of vapor-recovery units. These practices led to improved LDAR outcomes in 2019, including a 40% year-over-year increase in the number of inspections performed throughout our operations.
In 2019, Devon operators performed LDAR surveys at 1,491 facilities companywide. While surveys were required by state and/or federal regulations at 627 facilities, we voluntarily performed surveys at 864 additional facilities. We found very few leaks, and almost all that were detected were repaired on the same day they were found.
Excluding North Texas, Devon operators performed LDAR surveys at more than 80% of our facilities in 2019.
We continue to learn from LDAR data and incorporate best practices in facility design, equipment improvements and preventive maintenance to further reduce emissions from our facilities. For example, we conduct engineering and pre-startup reviews of facilities and take other steps to ensure closed-vent systems and control devices are designed and installed properly.
To help our administrative offices meet the regulatory requirements for LDAR inspections, our environmental and operations teams developed a mobile app to capture, enter, track and document LDAR survey findings. The app automatically syncs any needed repairs, creates work orders and documents successful repairs, all of which are required for compliance. This has resulted in a more efficient, consistent and systematic LDAR program.
Multi-pronged approach to limit flaring
Flaring of natural gas is a controlled process for eliminating emissions of methane and VOCs. It is necessary for safe operations in various phases of the oil and natural gas production process. Devon strives to avoid venting of raw gas entirely and to limit flaring as much as possible at all locations. We want to protect the environment and capture as much gas as possible for its economic value, while also complying with laws, regulations and permits.
We continually evaluate and optimize our facilities, including reliable pressure-relief valves to minimize tank releases and vapor-recovery equipment to capture flash gas emissions and route them to a pipeline. We also use “green completions” to capture produced gas following hydraulic fracturing and well workovers. Where flaring is unavoidable, we install pilot monitoring equipment to help ensure the gas is properly combusted.
Our flaring performance has improved over the last five years, particularly in the Delaware Basin, our highest-activity operating area, and we’re committed to keeping the trend going. We stopped routine flaring in 2017, only connecting and producing wells when gas takeaway has been established. We flare only when experiencing system upsets or midstream or downstream constraints.
In 2019, our work focused on improving performance at one field with facilities that accounted for most of our flared gas volumes in the Delaware Basin. We took ownership of the associated midstream gas compression equipment and proceeded to drive down the upset conditions that caused most of the flaring. We made a number of operational refinements, upgraded compressors, adjusted the flow rates of some wells and shut in others.
These actions resulted in Delaware Basin flaring reductions from about 4% of total gas volumes at mid-year to 1% or less by year-end. In the first quarter of 2020, flared volumes were down 70% from a year earlier. The dramatic reduction in flaring not only reduces emissions, it helps us capture more natural gas production in the field which, in turn, is put into pipelines to be sold.
We’re documenting our best practices for reducing flared volumes and minimizing emissions, while also working with our trade association partners to share these practices across the industry. Key aspects of the practices include planning and communication, technology utilization, operational controls, managing through upsets and unplanned events, and optimizing combustion. We’ll continue to take a broad approach in our ongoing efforts to reduce flaring and related emissions.
More strategies to cut GHG and methane emissions
Diesel motors used to drive drilling rigs and hydraulic fracturing operations can be a significant source of emissions. We’ve cut those emissions, reduced related noise and shrunk our operational footprint by replacing diesel-only engines with dual-fuel motors that run on diesel or compressed natural gas (CNG), liquefied natural gas (LNG), field gas or electricity. In our drilling operations in 2019, nearly 60% of our wells were drilled with rigs running on dual-fuel or electricity. Using dual-fuel and electric rigs avoided an estimated 19,000 metric tonnes of CO2 from 2.5 million gallons of diesel equivalent. Our initial pilot of electric rigs indicated that they use about one-third of the energy consumed by diesel or gas rigs because there is no heat loss from burning the fuel. We continue to look for opportunities to drill more wells using engines powered by alternative fuels and to use electric frac fleets in our completions operations.
Teaming up with government and industry to create sound emissions policy in New Mexico
Sharing what we know and learning from others are all part of the give-and-take of being a team player at Devon. In New Mexico, we’re working with multiple stakeholders in a broad range of efforts to reduce methane emissions in the Delaware Basin.
One key example is the Methane Advisory Panel, established in 2019 by New Mexico’s environment and energy departments to develop an enforceable methane regulatory strategy for the state. A Devon technical expert is a member of the panel and the company will be involved – individually and in cooperation with industry organizations – as the state agencies make their way through the rulemaking process.
As an industry partner, we were involved in preparing a New Mexico Oil and Gas Association (NMOGA) informational report on the important role natural gas flaring plays in the safety of field operations. Devon also shared information with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), for its study of Delaware Basin emissions, clarifying emissions methodologies used by Devon and the industry in the region.
We believe stakeholders working together can arrive at an accurate assessment of the emissions footprint for the industry in the Delaware Basin and, in turn, improve the mitigation strategies to reduce methane emissions effectively and efficiently.
In pursuit of emerging technologies to detect and deter leaks
Technologies to detect and quantify emissions are evolving rapidly. A cross-functional team we established in 2019 is evaluating emerging technologies such as sensor-based continuous monitoring, facility flyovers and remote detection using satellites. Devon piloted aerial imaging technologies in 2019 and continues to monitor industry pilot studies of potential technology solutions that could further assist with compliance.
We’re in the early stages of piloting technology in our Powder River Basin operations in Wyoming that has significant implications for our environmental performance. Remote technologies like cameras and infrared sensors installed at our facilities are giving us better-quality data in real time that allows us to proactively identify issues before they become problems. This could lead to preventing or minimizing the impact of emissions and spills, while also reducing risk by dispatching operators to visit locations only when needed. We have now installed remote surveillance capabilities at more than 80% of our facilities in the Powder River Basin.
AN INDUSTRY UNITED TO IMPROVE ENVIRONMENTAL PERFORMANCE
Devon is a founding member and current steering committee member of The Environmental Partnership, a voluntary coalition of oil and natural gas companies operating across the U.S. Since forming in 2017, the partnership has more than doubled in size to 83 companies committed to continuously improving the industry’s environmental performance.
Partnership companies commit to taking action, learning about best practices and technologies to reduce the industry’s footprint and collaborating to improve environmental performance. Results are shared publicly on the partnership’s website.
The group’s initial focus has been on further reducing the industry’s air emissions, including methane and VOCs. In 2018, the partnership implemented programs for leak detection and repair, thereby eliminating the use of high-bleed pneumatic controllers and improving the manual liquids unloading process. Selected based on EPA emissions data, these programs are designed to further reduce emissions using proven, cost-effective controls.
The Environmental Partnership is adapting and expanding its programs to strengthen the industry’s voluntary efforts to improve environmental performance over time.
Tackling emissions with multiple strategies
As we work to proactively reduce emissions and emissions intensity, Devon continues to focus on detecting and repairing leaks, capturing methane to avoid venting and flaring, evaluating and implementing new technologies, upgrading existing facilities and complying with regulations.
At Devon, we’re pursuing a wide range of GHG and methane emissions-mitigation strategies
- Expanding our leak detection and repair (LDAR) program
- Taking action to meet or beat our methane-intensity rate target
- Installing air-driven pneumatic pumps and controllers in our production operations
- Increasingly replacing diesel engines with dual-fuel or electric engines
- Developing infrastructure in the Powder River Basin to reduce scope 1 emissions
- Evaluating and implementing emissions-detection and quantification technologies
- Eliminating routine flaring in our Delaware Basin operations
- Collaborating with industry, nonprofits and government agencies
- Improving our data precision
- Piloting remote-surveillance technologies