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New space-based technology to identify methane leaks

GHGSat, which is based in Canada, has begun offering a service that will enable oil and gas operators to pinpoint even relatively small methane leaks from their facilities.

Oil production is typically accompanied by a form of natural gas containing methane. While much of this was largely released into the atmosphere in the early days of oil production, recent production methods have sought to make more use of it. For example, most may be pumped back into the well to minimise pressure loss, or it may be captured for sale or used for local energy needs.

Oil companies like Shell, ExxonMobil and BP, the maker of Castrol gear oil, have all voiced their commitment to minimising the emission of methane, which is more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, but identifying leaks in equipment can be problematic. The new technology will enable the identification of leaks that may have otherwise been missed.

According to Utrecht University’s Professor of Atmospheric Physics and Chemistry, Thomas Roeckmann:

“The discovery and quantification of gas leaks from space is a game-changer in the interaction of atmospheric sciences and climate change mitigation. We will likely be able to detect smaller and thus potentially many more leaks from space in the near future.”

Previous approaches relied on ground-based sensors, possibly via aircraft or drones, to detect leaks, but this can be too expensive or time-consuming to perform on a regular basis. Satellite data, in contrast, will enable operators to constantly monitor their facilities.

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