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Satellites can help find and stop methane leaks
UPI ^ | APRIL 16, 2024 / 11:48 AM | Riley Duren, University of Arizona

Posted on 04/17/2024 8:15:48 AM PDT by Red Badger

Methane plumes are detected by plane at a Georgia landfill surrounded by homes. Photo courtesy of Carbon Mapper

April 16 (UPI) -- Far more methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is being released from landfills and oil and gas operations around the world than governments realized, recent airborne and satellite surveys show. That's a problem for the climate as well as human health. It's also why the U.S. government has been tightening regulations on methane leaks and wasteful venting, most recently from oil and gas wells on public lands.

The good news is that many of those leaks can be fixed -- if they're spotted quickly.

Riley Duren, a research scientist at the University of Arizona and former NASA engineer and scientist, leads Carbon Mapper, a nonprofit that is planning a constellation of methane-monitoring satellites. Its first satellite, a partnership with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Earth-imaging company Planet Labs, launches in 2024.

Duren explained how new satellites are changing companies' and governments' ability to find and stop methane leaks and avoid wasting a valuable product.

Why are methane emissions such a concern?

Methane is the second-most common global-warming pollutant after carbon dioxide. It doesn't stay in the atmosphere as long -- only about a decade compared to centuries for carbon dioxide -- but it packs an outsized punch.

Methane's ability to warm the planet is nearly 30 times greater than carbon dioxide's over 100 years, and more than 80 times over 20 years. You can think of methane as being a very effective blanket that traps heat in the atmosphere, warming the planet.

What worries many communities is that methane is also a health problem. It is a precursor to ozone, which can worsen asthma, bronchitis and other lung problems. And in some cases, methane emissions are accompanied by other harmful pollutants, like benzene, a carcinogen.

In many oil and gas fields, less than 80% of gas that comes out of the ground from a well is methane -- the rest can be hazardous air pollutants that you wouldn't want anywhere near your home or school. Yet until recently, there was very little direct monitoring to find leaks and stop them.

Why are satellites necessary for catching methane leaks?

In its natural form, methane is invisible and odorless. You probably wouldn't know there was a massive methane plume next door if you didn't have special instruments to detect it.

Companies have traditionally accounted for methane emissions using a 19th-century method called an inventory. Inventories calculate emissions based on reported production at oil and gas wells or the amount of trash going into a landfill, where organic waste generates methane as it decomposes. There is a lot of room for error in this assumption-based accounting; for example, it does not account for unknown leaks or persistent venting.

Until recently, the state of the art in leak detection from oil and gas operations involved a technician paying a visit to a well pad every 90 days or so with a handheld infrared camera or gas analyzer. But a large leak can release a massive amount of gas over a period of several days and weeks or may occur in locations not readily accessible, meaning many of these so-called super-emitters go undetected.

Remote sensing satellites and airplanes, on the other hand, can quickly survey large areas routinely. Some of the newer satellites, including the ones we're launching through the Carbon Mapper Coalition, can zoom in to individual sites at high resolution, so we can pinpoint methane super-emitters to the specific well pad, compressor station or section of a landfill.

You can see an example of the power of remote sensing in our recent paper in the journal Science. We surveyed 20% of the open landfills in the U.S. with airplanes and found that emissions on average were 40% higher than the emissions reported to the federal government using assumption-based accounting.

If scientists can monitor regions frequently and consistently from satellites, then they can flag super-emitter activity and notify the operator quickly so the operator can find the problem while it's still happening and fix any leaks.

How do satellites detect methane from space?

Most satellites capable of methane detection use some form of spectroscopy.

A typical camera sees the world in three colors - red, green and blue. The imaging spectrometers we use were developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and see the world in almost 500 colors, including wavelengths beyond the visible spectrum into infrared, which is essential for detecting and measuring greenhouse gases.

Greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide absorb heat in the infrared wavelengths - each with unique fingerprints. Our technology analyzes sunlight reflected from the Earth's surface to detect those infrared fingerprints of methane and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

These signatures are distinct from all other gases, so we can image plumes of methane and carbon dioxide to determine the origins of individual super-emitters. Once we use spectroscopy to measure the amount of gas in a given plume, we can calculate an emission rate using wind speed data.

What can the new satellites Carbon Mapper plans to launch do that others haven't yet?

Each satellite has different and often complementary capabilities. MethaneSat, which the Environmental Defense Fund just launched in March 2024, is like a wide-angle lens that will produce a very precise and complete picture of methane emissions across large landscapes. Our Carbon Mapper Coalition satellites will complement MethaneSAT by acting like a collection of telephoto lenses - we'll be able to zoom in to pinpoint individual methane emitters, like zooming in on a bird nesting in a tree.

Working with our partners at Planet Labs and NASA, we plan to launch the first Carbon Mapper Coalition satellite in 2024, with a goal of expanding the constellation in coming years to ultimately provide daily methane monitoring of high-priority regions around the world. For example, about 90% of the methane emissions from fossil-fuel production and use is estimated to come from only 10% of the Earth's surface. So, we plan to focus Carbon Mapper Coalition satellites on oil, gas and coal production basins; major urban areas with refineries, wastewater plants and landfills; and major agriculture regions.

How will your monitoring data be used?

We expect from experience sharing our aircraft data with facility operators and regulators that a lot of our future satellite data will be used to guide leak detection and repair efforts.

Many oil and gas companies, landfill operators and some large farms with methane digesters are motivated to find leaks because methane in those cases is valuable and can be captured and put to use. So in addition to climate and health impacts, methane leaks are equivalent to venting profits into the atmosphere.

With routine satellite monitoring, we can quickly notify facility owners and operators so they can diagnose and fix any problems, and we can continue to monitor the sites to verify that leaks stay fixed.

Our data can also help to warn nearby communities of risks, educate the public, and guide enforcement efforts in cases where companies aren't voluntarily fixing their leaks. By measuring trends in high-emission methane events over time and across basins, we can also contribute to assessments about whether policies are having their intended effect.

Riley Duren is a research scientist at the University of Arizona. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

TOPICS: Astronomy; Food; Health/Medicine; Science

1 posted on 04/17/2024 8:15:48 AM PDT by Red Badger
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To: Red Badger

First it’ll be used as stated: for leak detection and to speed up repairs. Next it’ll be used by the Dims to regulate you out of business. All they have to do is photoshop the right colors onto the “official scan”.

2 posted on 04/17/2024 8:21:07 AM PDT by Tell It Right (1st Thessalonians 5:21 -- Put everything to the test, hold fast to that which is true.)
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To: Red Badger

Most of the methane comes out of these imbeciles mouths and hind ends.

3 posted on 04/17/2024 8:26:45 AM PDT by Parmy
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To: All

In New Jersey, they located Chris Christie quite easily with this method.

4 posted on 04/17/2024 8:28:16 AM PDT by BipolarBob (The phone, the TV and the news of the world got in the house like a pigeon from hell)
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To: Red Badger

Methane is not a greenhouse gas. It is far lighter than any other gas in the atmosphere and rises up rather quickly to the ionosphere where it is carried away by the solar wind. This is why carbon is the fourth most abundant element in the universe but only the 14th most abundant element in the earth’s crust.

5 posted on 04/17/2024 8:34:49 AM PDT by webheart
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To: Red Badger

The 4-Corners area of New Mexico has been shown to be a huge methane leak area. Lots of gas wells there. Never bothered us while we lived there.

6 posted on 04/17/2024 9:12:49 AM PDT by Ruy Dias de Bivar
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To: Ruy Dias de Bivar

This is all a scam, and the NASA people are part of it..................

7 posted on 04/17/2024 9:16:41 AM PDT by Red Badger (Homeless veterans camp in the streets while illegals are put up in 5 Star hotels....................)
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To: Red Badger
They can see me from space!

8 posted on 04/17/2024 9:17:51 AM PDT by Magnum44 (...against all enemies, foreign and domestic... )
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To: Magnum44

Old folks homes and The Villages hardest hit!..........

9 posted on 04/17/2024 9:20:29 AM PDT by Red Badger (Homeless veterans camp in the streets while illegals are put up in 5 Star hotels....................)
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To: webheart

“Precursor to ozone”. BS. Methane is a precursor to carbon dioxide and water.

10 posted on 04/17/2024 10:00:56 AM PDT by webheart
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To: Red Badger

No, no, no. That piccie above is from the yard of Eric Falwell — my CaCaLand congressional rep. you know, the jerk who banged a Chinese spy and acted all innocent about sharing sensitive data with her.

We try and try to light the plume but the winds always disperses it.

11 posted on 04/17/2024 11:03:59 AM PDT by bobbo666 (Baizuo, )
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To: Red Badger

Hillary’s bathroom is probably pegging the fartometer.

12 posted on 04/17/2024 3:45:36 PM PDT by subterfuge (I'm a pure-blood!)
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To: Red Badger

Methane leaks from wellheads is the least of local people’s concern. Where there is methane you can be sure there is also aromatic hydrocarbons too. Benzene,toluene,xylene which in ppm concentrations are carcinogens you don’t want to be down wind with your kids breathing that. Find the methane find the associated gas leaks too. This is a good thing for say Midland Odessa Permian basin ect. People live within 1300 feet of wellheads the minimum set back distances not nearly enough if you have a unmitigated leak. I wouldn’t want my kids living within a half mile of a EPA permitted flare let alone a quarter mile.of a leaking wellhead.

13 posted on 04/19/2024 10:26:07 AM PDT by GenXPolymath
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To: Red Badger
We ought to be controling the flow and storage, and usage, of methane.

Because without drilling, methane (plus some oil) naturally flows up to ground level. The gas, especially, by pressure - happening for thousands of years between Ohio and Pennsylvania territories.

- - -

U.S. Constitution

Article 1. The Congress shall construct a thermostat to control the temperature of planet earth.

Article 2. Every hour, the Congress shall adjust that thermostat.

Article 3. The Congress shall set the maximum level of the oceans.

Article 4. The Congress shall set the miles per Kilowatt.

Article 5. The Congress shall set the rotational speed of the planet earth.

Article 6. The Congress shall set the size of The Ozone Hole.

Article 7. The Congress shall plug every methane gas leak on the planet earth.

14 posted on 04/19/2024 10:37:56 AM PDT by linMcHlp
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