Assessment of technological advancements in zero emission controllers

A pneumatic controller is a device that monitors certain process variables such as temperature, pressure liquid level, etc., and generates an output signal to drive a control element, such as a control valve. Natural gas driven pneumatic controllers are used widely in the oil and gas industry. These devices release methane into the atmosphere, either continuously or intermittently. In 2016, Carbon Limits was tasked to assess the applicability and cost effectiveness of zero emission controllers suitable for the oil gas industry.
Since 2016, significant progress has occurred both in zero emissions technologies and regulations promoting the transition from natural gas driven pneumatic controllers to zero-emission controllers. The provinces of Alberta and British Columbia in Canada and the state of Colorado in the United States have implemented regulations encouraging and requiring the installations of zero-emission controllers.

Owing to the increasing popularity of zero emission controllers, Carbon Limits has assessed the technological advancements in zero emission controllers and performed a cost-effectiveness study using updated costs for the presented technologies.

This report, commissioned by CATF  (  is to be used as an annex to the 2016 report, ‘Zero emission technologies for pneumatic controllers in the USA’ ( .

This report presents advancements in the zero-emission controller technologies presented in the 2016 report, and newer technologies suitable in this context. An abatement cost model is submitted as an annex to this report,
which estimates the methane abatement cost and incremental capex requirements for each technology, depending on the facility requirements. Major findings from this report have been summarized below:

• The market for electric controllers and instrument air powered controllers has been developing since 2016. The new regulations have been one of the drivers for the increasing demand and development of new technological solutions.
• The barriers to implementing solar panels at well sites have been reduced, due to developments in PV technology and increasing awareness on the use of solar powered electric controllers.
• Electric controllers have some of the lowest abatement costs at most facility configurations. The market is still developing, with newer solutions being introduced into the market.
• Solar-powered instrument air is a new technology. This technology is suitable for remote sites with no access to grid electricity. The abatement cost for this technology is lower than the social cost of methane, for the sites assessed and presented in this report.2
• Three site configurations, ranging from 5 to 20 controllers at the facility, were assessed in this report.

All of them have abatement costs much lower than the social cost of methane. Overall, based on the cost-effectiveness model and interviews with relevant stakeholders from the oil and gas industry, zero-emission controllers are very relevant for reducing emissions from the oil and gas sector.

Picture by Vinh Nguyen.