(Reuters) – Dominion Energy Inc said on Tuesday it plans to cut the amount of methane escaping from its natural gas wells, pipelines and other infrastructure by 50 percent over the next decade as part of its effort to combat global warming.
The company, one of the biggest U.S. power and gas utilities, held contests among its business units to determine how much methane emissions they could reduce, said Diane Leopold, president and CEO of Dominion’s Gas Infrastructure Group.
“Rather than focus on saving money, which drove some of our early methane emission programs, we started thinking about sustainability and methane reductions,” Leopold said.
Methane, the primary component of natural gas, has more than 80 times the heat-trapping potential of carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after it escapes into the atmosphere, scientists say.
The energy industry is the largest source of U.S. methane emissions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). However, there is a market for methane. The more methane kept in pipes, the more gas companies can sell to customers.
Dominion said the goal is to prevent more than 430,000 metric tons of methane, or 23 billion cubic feet (bcf) of natural gas, from entering the atmosphere between 2010 and 2030. The company said that would be equivalent to taking 2.3 million cars off the road for a year.
Dominion has 3.4 million gas distribution customers in West Virginia, Ohio, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and the Carolinas, over 100,000 miles of gas pipelines and 1 trillion cubic feet of underground storage and production.
Leopold said the company will cut methane emissions across all its gas businesses by reducing venting during planned maintenance and inspections, replacing older equipment and expanding leak detection and repair programs, among other things.
The amount of methane that leaked from U.S. gas systems was about 1.4 percent to 2.3 percent of the country’s total output, according to studies by the EPA and the Environmental Defense Fund, an advocacy group.
Leopold said the company did not want to estimate the cost of its programs since the goal was to reduce methane emissions.
“We wanted to find out how much methane we could save, not the dollars we could save,” Leopold said.
She said Dominion held competitions to design programs to reduce methane emissions. In one, the company asked its businesses to figure out how much emissions they could reduce with $1 million.
Dominion said this initiative builds on previous efforts to cut methane on the gas side of its business and carbon emissions on the power side.
The company is also working with customers to help them cut their methane emissions.
Dominion has partnered with Smithfield Foods to invest at least $250 million in North Carolina, Virginia and Utah to capture waste methane from hog farms that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and convert it into renewable natural gas to heat homes and power local industries.
The Trump administration, meanwhile, is rolling back Obama-era rules aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, saying lighter regulations will boost economic growth. Opponents say this will worsen global warming.
“With or without regulations, we’re going to proceed with our programs,” Leopold said.
Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by David Gregorio