By Ron Bousso and Matthew Green
LONDON (Reuters) - BP is introducing continuous monitoring of methane leaks at new oil and gas projects using drones and surveillance cameras, in a bid to cut emissions of the potent greenhouse gas to near zero.
The technology, which could encompass BP's entire output within a decade or so, comes as the oil and gas industry faces mounting pressure from investors and activists to cut heat-trapping emissions to meet 2015 Paris Climate Agreement goals.
In what it said was an industry first, London-based BP said methane detecting and measurement technologies will be deployed at all its new projects globally to cut the volume of methane production it loses as emissions to below its current target of 0.2%.
Methane, the primary component of natural gas, leaks from oil and gas wells, pipelines and processing facilities. It has more than 80 times the heat-trapping potential of carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after it escapes into the atmosphere.
The oil and gas sector's methane emissions reached 80 million tonnes in 2017, roughly 6% of the sector's global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the International Energy Agency.
Methane emissions "remain high despite initial industry-led initiatives and government policies announced recently. Implementing abatement options quickly and at scale remains a real challenge," IEA analyst Christophe McGlade said.
The Trump administration is weighing rescinding Obama-era limits on oil and gas industry methane emissions, a move that sparked a backlash among environmentalists, institutional investors and some oil companies.
In 2017 and 2018 BP's methane emissions were slightly below the 0.2% target set in 2016 and should hold beneath that level this year, Gordon Birrell, BP chief operating officer for upstream, told Reuters in an interview.
The company said this year it would improve disclosure around emissions and show how its investments meet the Paris climate goal to limit global warming to "well below" 2 degrees Celsius. Analysts claim that some of its investments since 2018 were not in line with the Paris goals.
Oil companies have traditionally measured methane escapes through calculations and estimates.
The use of infrared cameras mounted on robots, drones or located on site allows constant monitoring, detection and measurements of leaks with much higher precision, Birrell said.
"Technology is the key in my view to emissions reduction. We see lots of opportunity for the use of technology to reduce methane and other emissions and get all the benefit of natural gas," he said.
Funding for the project will come from the $1.5 billion BP has earmarked for maintaining assets.
BP recently launched a drone from the Shetland Islands in northern Scotland to detect and measure methane emissions from its Clair platform, located nearly 100 km offshore.
"Remote facilities can be monitored from very close up," Birrell said. "It is quite a game-changer in terms of methane detection."
BP will also deploy the technologies at a number of existing production facilities, including in Oman and Azerbaijan.
(Reporting by Ron Bousso; Editing by Jan Harvey)