Lawrence natural gas provider announces new plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions

photo by: Courtesy: Black Hills Energy

A map of Black Hills Energy's service territory is pictured.

Lawrence’s largest natural gas utility on Wednesday committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions much sooner than once anticipated.

Black Hills Energy now has committed to have net zero greenhouse gas emissions in its natural gas utility by 2035, the company said as part of its annual sustainability report released Wednesday. Previously, the company had committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2035.

Company officials said they intend to significantly increase efforts to prevent natural gas lines from leaking and to prevent lines and other infrastructure from becoming damaged, which may cause leaks. When natural gas leaks into the air, it releases methane into the atmosphere. Methane is considered a major cause of global warming.

“Our Net Zero target by 2035 builds on our natural gas system safety and integrity initiatives and expands upon strategies underway to strengthen our system such as advanced leak detection and expanded damage prevention efforts,” Jerry Watkins, general manager of Black Hills Energy, said in a press release.

The program specifically includes plans to replace all unprotected steel pipe in the Black Hills system with either plastic or protected steel lines to help prevent leaks or damage. The company also will use more detailed emissions data to better identify where leaks may be occurring, and will use “predictive analytics” to assess which segments of the pipelines may be most likely to be damaged by construction or other means.

The company also plans to expand its efforts to capture methane and reuse it in energy production. Black Hills currently has four facilities in Nebraska and two in Iowa that capture methane that otherwise would be released into the atmosphere. The projects capture methane from locations such as landfills and wastewater treatment plants, both of which can produce large amounts of methane.

Black Hills in July announced that it is seeking state approval for a pilot program that will allow people to voluntarily pay an extra amount on their monthly natural gas bills to help fund other such projects that capture methane, which would be converted into what the industry calls “renewable natural gas.” The company would use money collected through the voluntary program to build methane collection projects at other locations — dairy farms are another example of large methane producers that the company would consider.

“We are evaluating dozens more RNG projects across our service territories,” the company said in its sustainability report. “We see great potential to generate RNG supplies throughout our vast agricultural service area.”

Black Hills operates natural gas systems in many rural areas in Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and Wyoming.

The pilot project is awaiting approval from the Kansas Corporation Commission, and Black Hills believes members of the public will be able to sign up for the voluntary program in early 2023.


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