Exploration and Production Technologies
Assessing Fugitive Methane Emissions Using Natural Gas Engines in Unconventional Resource Development Last Reviewed 1/27/2015


The goal of this project is to create an inventory of diesel engines, their use, and emissions incurred during unconventional well development. The first objective is to analyze the benefits of operating these or similar engines on dual fuel or dedicated natural gas to determine regulated and non-regulated emissions and fuel cost reductions. The next objective is to determine the effects of operating these or similar engines and fugitive methane emissions based on the operation of current technologies using a variety of natural gas compositions. The final objective will be to examine new catalyst formulations that can be used in conjunction with these developing technologies to minimize these new sources of fugitive methane emissions associated with unconventional well development.

West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV 26571

Production of unconventional gas wells incurs a significant cost in diesel fuel used to power the extraction equipment. The industry is moving toward substituting domestic natural gas for diesel fuel in order to reduce operating costs. Ideally, local wellhead gas would be utilized, but this solution is undermined by engine control and emissions problems in the near term. Additionally, pending and future greenhouse gas emission regulations, which include methane emissions, have the potential to slow this change. 

Dual fuel retrofit strategies will be implemented in the near term to reduce the risk to unconventional gas producers; however, the strategies will evolve to include dedicated stoichiometric natural gas engines in the long term to realize the greater cost benefit of utilizing domestic natural gas. Switching from diesel to dual fuel or dedicated natural gas engines also has the potential to reduce local and regional emissions inventory loading to the atmosphere from these sites. 

WVU’s Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emissions (CAFEE) will collaborate with its project partners to assess fugitive methane emissions when utilizing domestic natural gas for the prime movers and transportation at unconventional gas drilling sites. Specifically, CAFEE will identify and characterize the impacts of fugitive methane emissions using dual-fuel (natural gas and diesel) and dedicated natural gas engines as replacements for the diesel-powered units that currently dominate unconventional well site operations. This effort will include assessing fugitive methane emissions at unconventional well site locations as well as for the on-site supply pipeline, compression systems, storage tanks, engine fuel lines, crank case vents, and unburned fuel in the exhaust. This effort will provide industry with the data, assessment, conclusions, and mitigation strategies for fugitive methane emissions through the utilization of natural gas for the prime movers and transportation used in unconventional gas production.

The successful completion of this project will provide the natural gas industry with information needed to implement low-cost, robust technologies that will promote production and utilization of U.S. energy resources while simultaneously mitigating risk to the public, oil and gas personnel, and the environment.

Accomplishments (most recent listed first)

  • WVU gathered data produced during their field-related activities and prepared it for processing.
  • Researchers completed a draft literature review of currently available dual-fuel and natural gas technologies, well site fueling infrastructure, diesel fuel consumption rates of the prime movers, and emissions regulations.
  • Researchers updated three miniature stand-alone data loggers that were implemented in on-road prime movers to collect activity data for cycle development. Three new mechanical engineering graduate students are now gaining hands-on experience in conducting field measurements.

Current Status (January 2015)
WVU is currently compiling the gathered data to be used for engine dynamometer laboratory testing. The project team continues to work to obtain non-disclosure agreements with multiple oil and gas companies (TBD) and their support companies (water and sand hauling). WVU continues to develop data collection systems for fracturing, drilling, and on-road equipment to collect representative activity data for cycle development. WVU is preparing to conduct future on-site and laboratory emissions measurement activities and measure emissions of representative engines using both a portable emissions measurement system and laboratory emissions measurement equipment. Other activities currently underway include establishing relationships with off-road specialists at two major engine manufacturers.

Project Start: October 1 2013
Project End:  September 30, 2015

DOE Contribution:  $1,499,830
Performer Contribution: $410,813

Contact Information:
NETL – William Fincham (william.fincham@netl.doe.gov or 304-285-4268)
West Virginia University – Dr. Andrew Nix (Andrew.Nix@mail.wvu.edu) or 304-293-0801)

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