Energy 1: Fossil Energy

This session will examine the application of LCA to evaluate the implications of using of conventional energy sources including natural gas, coal, and oil.  It demonstrates the different areas where LCA can be applied (i.e., assessment of current technologies; future implications of energy use; environmental implications of energy trade; and analysis of the methodology and interpretation of results).  It will discuss how LCA findings may impact increasing and evolving policies and regulations and the importance of a regional focus and system specificity.   These LCA studies were accomplished through the use open-source tools, industry partnerships, and extensive critical literature reviews.   

Key Discussion Points (Mix of panel and audience questions):

  1. The session focuses on conventional/fossil fuels. Has LCA demonstrated that there is significant room for plausible improvements in the carbon intensity of these energy sources?  Is it feasible to reach carbon goals with technology improvements regarding these energy sources?
  2. Importance of regional focus and system specificity
  3. How is else LCA being practically applied in fossil energy space? And how frequently is it happening?
  4. Are we missing some important potential issues by limiting our focus primarily on GHGs? Or are GHG assessments sufficient to capture trends and other related environmental concerns?
  5. What are the trends you see from the increasing policy development and regulations?  What new developments are imminent and what are their possible implications?

Life cycle GHG impacts of oil from hydraulically-fractured reservoirs: A first well-level engineering analysis

ABSTRACT. Hydraulic fracturing of oil reservoirs has resulted in a profound change in US oil futures: a 40-year decline in oil US production has been almost entirely reversed in the space of 7 years. However, the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing, including greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are still uncertain.

We apply an open-source engineering-based LCA model called the Oil Production Greenhouse Gas Emissions Estimator to examine well-level emissions intensity of over 7,000 oil wells in the Bakken formation of North Dakota and 8,000 wells in the Eagle Ford formation of Texas. In order to do this, we leverage a new open-source tool called GHGfrack, which computes the greenhouse gas emissions associated with drilling and fracturing wells.

Results suggest that emissions from the Bakken formation are highly bi-modal. Wells which do not flare have upstream emissions that are 25-50% those of a “typical” oil reservoir (3.3 gCO2/MJ production weighted mean, 5%-95% range of 1.2 to 4.9 gCO2/MJ). Wells that do flare have emissions intensity similar to oil sands projects or high-flaring regions like Nigeria (12.9 gCO2/MJ, 5%-95% range of 3.1 to 32.5 gCO2/MJ). Wells in the Eagle Ford formation exhibit results more similar to non-flaring Bakken wells, although the large volume of co-produced natural gas liquids results in complications due to co-production analysis choices. Another key uncertainty is the treatment of flowback fluids during well completion.

These results highlight the importance of understanding and regulating air emissions from hydraulic fracturing operations. The difference between flaring and non-flaring wells in the Bakken formation is about 10 gCO2/MJ. This reduction is of the same magnitude as the targets set in a variety of regulations in the US (e.g., California Low Carbon Fuel Standard) and EU (e.g., Fuel Quality Directive). This implies that significant strides in fuel GHG intensity could be made by tighter controls on flaring rates.


Evaluation of the Acceptability of Applying Existing Life Cycle Analyses into a Specific System- BC LNG Case

ABSTRACT. Through a Critical Literature Review of 40 Life Cycle Analyses (LCA) that evaluate the environmental implications of liquefaction of natural gas (LNG) and their applicability to LNG production in British Columbia (intended system analysis), a systematic methodology was designed to determine the need and scope for a new LCA. A summary of the literature was performed focused on capturing the details of the LNG supply chain. The summary was built using a matrix format that includes 11 key aspects on critical review of LCA as per ISO 14044 Environmental Management – LCA – Requirements and guidelines. Finally, the literature was evaluated based on the appropriateness of the information to be used to achieve the intended goal. Statistics regarding the focus and the geographical representation of each analysis were developed. For example, it was demonstrated that the analyses of environmental impacts of the supply chain of LNG derived from Australian operations (33%) dominate existing LCA documentation. However, from the total upstream LNG LCAs, few of them (3 out of 12) represent a complete and/or consistent LNG supply chain. Also, the matrix designed was used to illustrate for each study the level of rigor used in the 11 criteria and its applicability to the intended goal. The methodology allowed to demonstrate the limited degree of overlap in scope, goals, methodology, resource base, and production methods between available LCA and what would be required to assess British Columbia’s situation that means existing LCA are only useful when a rough first overview of the system impacts is needed. However, such analyses would not provide meaningful insights into the contributions of specific elements in a British Columbian system which would include raw gas composition, natural gas recovery and production technology, liquefaction plant efficiency, electricity sources, and regulatory framework on venting and flaring emissions management, natural gas and natural gas liquids final market. The systematic framework developed can be used by policy makers or researchers to inform about the acceptability of applying existing LCA to a specific intended goal and to make the decision of whether or not and how to allocate resources to a new LCA.


U.S. Coal Exports – LC GHG comparison of PRB coal to foreign export competitors in the Asian market
SPEAKER: Tim Skone

ABSTRACT. According to the EIA, U.S. coal consumption in 2013 was approximately 15% lower than 2003 (EIA, 2014). As a result, coal producers have taken advantage of the growth in foreign coal demand via export markets. Over the same period, exports of steam coal from the U.S. increased by a factor of 2.5 (EIA, 2014). Historically, the majority of U.S. steam coal exports were shipped to Europe and the rest of North America. Since 2009, steam coal exports to the Asian markets have increased by an order of magnitude. The International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasts that steam coal trade will grow 3.2 percent annually through 2019, from 787 to 950 million tonnes (IEA, 2014). Chinese imports peak in 2017 at approximately 200 million tonnes. Demand in Europe will drop of slightly over the forecast period, while Japan and Korea show modest increases of 0.7 percent and 2.4 percent per year. The current capacity of U.S. export terminals is approximately 150 million tonnes per year. Two new facilities (Millenium Bulk Terminal and Gateway Pacific Terminal), which are currently under review in Washington state, could add an additional 90 million tonnes of export capacity (REF 2). These facilities would make it more economical to export low sulfur sub-bituminous coal from the Powder River Basin (PRB) from the Pacific Coast to Asian markets. The goal of this effort is to compare the life cycle GHG emissions of exporting PRB coal to destinations in Asia with regional alternatives. IEA forecasts that Indonesia will remain the largest coal exporter in the world with a 40 percent market share in 2019, while Australia will continue to be the second largest exporter (IEA, 2014). Exports from the PRB will be compared to exports from those countries. The scope of this LCA is a cradle-to-grave comparison of 1 MWh of electricity generated at an advanced power plant (ultra-supercritical pulverized coal) in Asia (Japan, Korea, and Taiwan). The Wyoming Infrastructure Authority has connected NETL with industry partners to obtain operating data for U.S. and international activities.


Cradle-to-Grave Life Cycle Analysis of Conventional Petroleum Fuels Produced in the U.S. with an Outlook to 2040

ABSTRACT. The U.S. crude consumption mix has changed dramatically since the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) first performed a comprehensive LCA of petroleum derived fuels (NETL, 2008). According to the Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook, domestic production will account for nearly 60% of U.S. crude consumption by 2015 (EIA, 2015). In 2005, the reference year for the NETL Petroleum Baseline, domestic production accounted for only 34% of U.S. consumption. Almost half of the domestic production in 2015 is predicted to be from tight oil, predominantly shale oil, which can be recovered economically because of technological advances in directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Thus, the U.S. reliance on overseas crude imports is projected to drop substantially. There are obvious energy security implications of these shifts, but what remains unclear is how these changes will impact the life cycle footprint of conventional fuels produced domestically. This study examines the life cycle GHG footprint of diesel, gasoline, and jet fuel projected to 2040. Changes to the domestic crude slate not only affect the emissions associated with crude extraction, but also the processing intensity in U.S. refineries based on changes to the quality of the crude. The results of this analysis encompass a cradle-to-grave inventory of GHG emissions by utilizing open-source models (Oil Production Greenhouse gas Emissions Estimator (OPGEE) and Petroleum Refinery Life Cycle Inventory Model (PRELIM)) paired with Monte Carlo simulation to account for changes to crude extraction, transport and refining as well as forecast uncertainty from the EIA Annual Energy Outlook (El-Houjeiri et al, 2013; Abella & Bergerson, 2012). The results of this analysis encompass a cradle-to-grave inventory of GHG emissions by utilizing updated models to account for changes to crude extraction, transport and refining. Section 526 of the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007 notes that life cycle GHG emissions from alternative fuels contracted by a federal agency, other than for research and testing, must be less than or equal to life cycle emissions from conventional fuels (USC, 2007). There are potential policy implications resulting from this study since the NETL Petroleum Baseline serves as the reference for the conventional fuels included in EISA Section 526.