Hilcorp leads in methane emissions, but not from North Slope

  • Hilcorp Alaska’s drill rig Innovation is seen on Alaska’s North Slope. A new report pegs the company as the national leader in methane emissions, although the vast majority come from its Lower 48 operations. (Photo/Courtesy/Hilcorp Alaska)

Nationally, oil company Hilcorp releases more methane, a potent greenhouse gas, than its much-larger U.S. peers, a new report shows.

But a closer look at Hilcorp’s operations in Alaska shows its rate of methane emissions here is smaller compared to most of its Lower 48 operations.

The report was commissioned by Ceres, an investment network targeting climate change, and Clean Air Task Force, an environmental group. It provides an unprecedented basis for comparing oil and gas companies’ greenhouse gas releases, officials with the groups said.

Across its operations in Alaska and the Lower 48, Hilcorp had about 40 percent more methane emissions than ExxonMobil, the nation’s largest oil and gas producer, the report shows. Its overall greenhouse gas emissions were just behind ExxonMobil’s.

Hilcorp is now Alaska’s second-largest oil producer, behind ConocoPhillips. But nationally in 2019, the year data in the report was collected, Hilcorp was the nation’s 19th largest oil and gas producer, behind ConocoPhillips, BP and others, the report shows.

“They are punching above their weight and not in a good way when it comes to their emission intensity,” said Andrew Logan, senior director of oil and gas at Ceres.

However, in Hilcorp’s North Slope fields in Alaska, the methane emissions associated with exploration and production were relatively tiny, according to the report.

Its rate of carbon dioxide emissions on the Slope was more middle-of-the-road compared to its U.S. peers, said Lesley Fleischman, senior analyst with the Clean Air Task Force.

Those emissions largely stem from turbines and engines used to power the North Slope oil field operations, she said.

Hilcorp’s Cook Inlet operations show a fairly high rate of methane emissions, compared to many of the company’s U.S. counterparts, Fleischman said. But the rate is lower than other Hilcorp locations in the Lower 48.

The findings are based on 2019 data the companies reported to the Environmental Protection Agency — before Hilcorp acquired BP’s North Slope assets in 2020. It looks at emissions related to exploration and production, not activities that come later, such as oil and gas processing and shipping.

A factor in Hilcorp’s high rates of methane and other greenhouse gas emissions is its business model of acquiring aging fields, Logan said.

The older equipment at those fields has a higher potential for releases, he said.

“They can’t be responsible for the state of these assets when they brought them into their company,” Logan said. “But what they do with those assets once they own them is on them.”

Hilcorp invests in older fields to safely extend their operational life, said Nick Piatek, a spokesman in Hilcorp’s headquarters in Houston, Texas. The company’s record of upgrading old equipment and improving operations is unique, he said.

The report’s calculations do not account for the modernization and retrofits of that equipment, he said.

Hilcorp has decreased emissions across its Alaska operations, including 24 percent at its offshore operations, Piatek said. In addition to its onshore North Slope fields, Hilcorp operates offshore production facilities in the Beaufort Sea, as well as Cook Inlet.

Piatek said the report is designed to advance the agenda of the groups behind it.

The report was written by consulting firm M.J. Bradley &Associates, an environmental consulting group, in collaboration with the two nonprofits.

The nonprofit groups are pushing for policy changes, including a leak-detection and repair program to help clean up greenhouse gas releases in oil and gas fields, Fleischman said. In general, more regulations are needed to control releases of methane and other greenhouse gases, she said.

Updated: 
06/09/2021 - 9:26am