Methane that leaks from natural gas wells and pipelines or is vented during pipeline testing contributes to destruction of the ozone layer. Dominion Energy of Virginia says it will cut methane emissions from its natural gas system by about 25 percent over the next decade to help fight climate change.
Dominion is one of the nation's largest natural gas companies, with more than 100,000 miles of pipelines. It's the lead developer of the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which is supposed to run from West Virginia to Virginia and eastern North Carolina.
Spokesman Aaron Ruby said the company recognizes the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
“The primary focus of this initiative is to keep more methane in our system and out of the atmosphere,” Ruby said.
Dominion plans to do that in three ways: Improving leak detection and repairs, replacing older less efficient equipment, and reducing or eliminating gas venting before maintenance, which Ruby said is the company's main source of methane emissions.
“We're going to be capturing, recycling and re-using methane before we do maintenance and inspections,” Ruby said.
Dominion says it expects the initiatives to cut methane emissions by 50 percent from where they were in 2010. Ruby said previous efforts have gotten the company just under halfway there, so he expects about 25 percent more over the next 10 years.
New technology also will be used to capture leaking methane at Dominion's natural gas wells, mainly in the West. But at least for now, the efforts won't affect independent well operators that supply Dominion pipelines, like the planned Atlantic Coast Pipeline, said Ruby. But he said the industry is making progress.
As utilities have expanded their use of natural gas, critics have pointed to methane leakage as a problem. Dominion's news drew praise from one of those critics, Jim Warren, the executive director of NC WARN.
“It's encouraging that a leading CEO is finally acknowledging the huge importance of methane in the struggle to slow the climate crisis,” Warren said.
Warren said he hopes Dominion's moves will spur others to adopt similar practices.
But he said big utilities like Dominion and Duke Energy still need to reduce their reliance on gas and make the switch to renewable energy, like solar and wind power.