With the current green/renewable energy focus in the oil and gas industry, the production of Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) is being supplemented by government incentives and pushed by social pressure.
Simultaneously, you have likely heard about the increased emphasis on hydrogen as an energy source. “The hydrogen economy is coming! The hydrogen economy is coming!” is the cry as companies look to embrace hydrogen in natural gas pipelines and think through how to incorporate hydrogen into the gas network.
We are still wrapping our minds around RNG, and we are certainly not ready for hydrogen, because saying that this is “not your same old natural gas” would be an understatement. Regardless, oil and gas companies need to start preparing now for this shift.
We may not know the answers yet, but we can be ready to address questions when they come. By ensuring that tariffs, measurement standard operating procedures (SOPs), and training programs are in order today, companies better position themselves for upcoming changes driven by the changing environment.
Gas Certification Institute (GCI) is ready to help by ensuring your current procedures and training are in line with current standards and ready to respond to new ones.
The Difference Between RNG and Conventional Natural Gas
Let’s start with an overview of what makes RNG different from conventional natural gas. Conventional natural gas can be described as geological-sourced natural gas. Some of the gas is suitable for direct use by the end-user, but most of this type of gas needs to be treated and processed by a midstream processor to remove contaminants and meet pipeline quality standards…and these midstream processors are very good at their job!
The gas delivered to transportation pipelines is of very predictable quality. Pipelines then deliver the gas to large industrial customers and LDCs (local distribution companies a/k/a regulated utilities that deliver gas to homes and small businesses).
By comparison, RNG is gas recovered from landfills, wastewater treatment plants, and agricultural operations. The quality is unpredictable and often includes contaminants.
For decades, we called it biogas, and it was a by-product — or contaminate — that needed to be disposed of. Companies selling biogas did this primarily as a way of disposing of their waste gas produced by decaying garbage in landfills or feed-lot waste. Generally, it was not economically feasible to sell this form of gas in its own right; instead, it offset the disposal cost. Most of this gas was delivered to midstream processors, who were well-versed in monitoring, treating, processing, and blending gas streams.
Today, we have relabeled that same old “waste gas” as “Renewable Natural Gas” (RNG) and there is a huge focus on it. Small to medium-sized RNG producers are popping up all over the country as a way to address the nationwide focus on renewable and green energy. This gas is being delivered in non-conventional locations, including directly into distribution systems.
While there is new technology to help treat RNG, much of that is still new, and producers do not have decades of experience like companies in our midstream industry. This has created numerous challenges.
Challenges Handling RNG at Local Distribution Companies
With the current push for renewable energy, some local distribution companies across the U.S. are being forced to accept renewable natural gas in their local distribution systems via directives from government agencies and their own policies — even though they may not be totally prepared for the operational and safety concerns involved.
LDCs did not have to worry about gas quality in the past, and some of those companies have never faced the challenges of gas sampling and validation of analysis data. Now, they are being forced to accept RNG — with its potential contaminants — into their local distribution system. Companies are having to sample for RNG, install additional equipment, and face challenges they have not seen before.
While RNG producers are required to treat and analyze their product to assure that it is “interchangeable” with normal pipeline natural gas, many of these producers operate just on the edge of the minimum quality specifications. The smallest upset or missed maintenance could throw their RNG stream out of spec, possibly into the “dangerous” classification.
This places pipeline and distribution companies into the position of needing to monitor both the operations of the RNG producer and their gas quality, yet they may not have staff with the training and equipment to do so.
Problems With Renewable Natural Gas Handling
– Red Flag #1: Local Distribution Companies have almost universal concern about being “forced” to take RNG under the concept that it was “interchangeable,” yet the API, AGA, and GPA standards are lagging beginning with respect to RNG.
LDCs and pipelines may or may not have specific contracts or tariffs concerning the RNG receipts into the system. They need operations guidance and procedures to assure “interchangeability.” Since the industry is currently lacking a standard to support this aspect of RNG. The guidelines are primarily provided by a contract or tariff — if there is one.
GCI solution: Utilizing our measurement SOPs program, we can help build out SOP manuals for your operation based on your specific contracts and tariffs so that measurement personnel understand how to perform key measurement tasks.
– Red Flag #2: Historically, LDS have historically not needed to focus on gas quality. Suddenly, RNG requires constant monitoring and management. If your techs and managers are not familiar with the fundamentals of gas quality, then you need to provide them with training.
GCI solution: Primarily, your measurement techs need to receive gas measurement training to understand the key aspects of gas sampling, gas analysis, and data analysis. We can provide fundamental training to help your existing employees understand gas quality, the importance of proper sampling techniques, and how to evaluate quality specifications. This gives your operations team the confidence they need to address this new challenge.
– Red Flag #3: Many pipeline operators and LDCs impose self-reporting requirements on producers of renewable natural gas in regards to maintenance activity and monitoring quality. This brings about key issues:
- Are you tracking whether they meet their self-reporting schedule?
- How do they submit the data in a format that works for you — without imposing a huge time requirement?
- How do you notify the producer, your field operations, and your commercial team when the RNG producer fails to meet their obligations?
GCI solution: Use the Muddy Boots platform to work directly with stakeholders. Specifically, the Muddy Boots Industry Connects module enables producers and stakeholders to exchange information and documents in one platform. Everyone can see what work has been completed, when the work was completed, and what still needs to be completed, which helps increase efficiency.
Also, you can use Muddy Boots to import gas analysis data and automate the validation process. Overdue inspections or maintenance activities appear in the dashboard, as well as through a notification process. The burden of the reporting is shifted to the producer, not your team.
What about Hydrogen in Natural Gas Pipelines?
In addition to the focus on RNG, hydrogen has seen an incredible international reach and is headed to the U.S. Hydrogen has been talked about and researched for decades, but the recent “green” initiatives have brought it back to the forefront. Now, research is ramping up to support the new reality.
One of the industry leaders that is spearheading research efforts so that we are prepared for the emergence of hydrogen is Cliff Johnson, president of the Pipeline Research Council International (PRCI) in Houston, Texas.
In a recent edition of the Pipeliners Podcast, Mr. Johnson noted that “there’s a lot of research that needs to be done to be able to transport hydrogen efficiently and effectively.”
Mr. Johnson went on to discuss the various challenges that need to be overcome associated with transporting hydrogen in a gas network. Specifically, there will need to be a mindset shift, as operators have spent decades trying to keep hydrogen out of the line. Now, they are being asked to incorporate hydrogen into existing pipeline networks.
The technical aspects are rapidly being addressed at the scientific theory level (e.g. metallurgy, seals and leakage, monitoring, etc.). Equipment manufacturers are scrambling to get ready. But, that still leaves a host of issues to address before we are ready to move commercial quantities of hydrogen through our systems.
Here at CGI, we may not know the answers today, but we are committed to staying on top of the issue and being ready to advise and assist our customers as the industry standards evolve.
Discuss an RNG and Hydrogen Measurement Solution with GCI
If RNG and hydrogen are not already part of your current reality, they will be soon. Talk to GCI about how to implement the right solution that supports the presence of RNG and prepares you for hydrogen.
- Does your operation require SOPs?
- Measurement training?
- Measurement operations software?
- Or, all three to support your entire measurement program?
We can develop the appropriate solution that elevates your preparation for a new natural gas environment. Contact GCI today to discuss.
Also, consider scheduling an educational demo of our Muddy Boots field operations platform to take advantage of the software capabilities to get the job done in the field. We are here to help.