Methane Detection New Mexico

FILE - In this April 24, 2015, file photo, pumpjacks work in a field near Lovington, N.M. Satellite imagery and supercomputing capabilities will be used to detect and monitor methane pollution from major oil and natural gas installations in New Mexico, under an informal partnership announced Sept. 19, 2019, between state regulators and private-sector data cruncher Descartes Labs. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

Virginia Natural Gas is partnering with a Pennsylvania-based gas producer and three pipeline transmission companies to reduce the escape of methane - a greenhouse gas linked to climate change - at every link in the chain from the well to homes and businesses.

The natural gas distribution company, based in Virginia Beach, announced an agreement on Thursday with Southwestern Energy to reduce methane emissions to less than 1%.

The deal is the first in the country to make that guarantee for every stage of the gas supply chain, extending from Southwestern Energy wells in Lycoming County, Pa. - home to Williamsport and the Little League World Series - to customers "from the suburbs of Richmond to the oceanfront," said Ken Yagelski, director of gas supply for Southern Company, which owns Virginia Natural Gas.

Both companies are founding members of Our Nation's Energy Future, or ONE Future, an industry trade group founded in 2014 to reduce methane emissions at every stage of the natural gas supply chain in the face of rising public concern - and environmental activism - about the use of fossil fuels that generate greenhouse gases that magnify global warming.

The organization also includes the pipeline transmission companies that transport natural gas to the local distribution system - Dominion Energy, Williams Transco and Columbia Gas Transmission, now part of TransCanada Energy. The system connects to a VNG pipeline extending from Quantico through the Richmond area down the Peninsula to Hampton Roads.

"Our whole mission is to drive methane emission reductions," said Virginia Natural Gas President Jim Kibler, who helped persuade the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to endorse the program under then-President Barack Obama.

Under the two-year agreement, Virginia Natural Gas will buy one-fifth of its gas from Southwestern Energy. The distribution company said it will buy the rest of its supplies from other producers that impose controls to reduce methane emissions below 1% by 2025.

Kibler said the distribution company reduced methane emissions from its operations to 0.552% in 2017 and expects further improvement when data for 2018 is released next week. "The results are better," he said.

The natural gas industry has promoted the fuel as a bridge away from dirtier coal, but Southern Company and Dominion are partners in the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, an embattled $7.75 billion project to transport natural gas 600 miles from shale fields in West Virginia to markets in southeastern Virginia and North Carolina, including VNG. Pipeline opponents say the project will worsen methane concentrations in the atmosphere by carrying gas produced by hydraulic fracturing.

Both companies say they are developing new ways to reduce the methane emissions. This week, for example, Dominion announced that it and Smithfield Foods are doubling their investment in a new technology to capture methane from hog waste lagoons and recycling it for fuel.

The companies are boosting their investment in their Align Renewable Natural Gas joint venture to $500 million. Dominion said the expanded operations will produce enough renewable natural gas to power 70,000 homes and businesses by 2029.

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