By Irina Slav
Methane emissions, especially those from the oil and gas industry, are becoming the new focus of attention for regulators and environmentalists. Tracking and measuring carbon dioxide emissions is now standard practice, but methane emissions used to be elusive. This is no longer the case, thanks to cutting-edge tech.
The European Space Agency recently reported that its scientists had used data from two satellites to map methane emissions from space, in partnership with data analytics services provider Kayrros, which developed the tools that made not just the detection of individual methane releases possible, but also their duration and quantification.
For those wondering what the big deal is with this tech, detecting and tracking methane emissions is instrumental in taking action to reduce them. As Kayrros puts it, “Methane comes from millions of different locations. There is just no climate action possible without reliable methane detection and attribution. Fixing them requires knowing if they exist, and where. You can’t fix what you can’t measure.”
So, what the technology does is locate methane emissions from up close and track them to see how long they continue and how intense they are. This then helps the emitters take steps to reduce the emissions and improve their reputation.
Earlier this year, Kayrros said in a report that the world’s methane emissions had grown by 32 percent during the first eight months of the year. That’s despite the negative effect the coronavirus pandemic had on not just the oil and gas industry but other industries that emit methane, too. Detection and measurement are the first steps in tackling these.
“When you look at the future, the Achilles heel of the gas industry is the methane emissions,” the head of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol, said last year. “And the good news is for the industry, this can be fixed by existing technology, only using the best practices. And I can tell you that many companies are taking this seriously.”
Companies may be taking this seriously, but they are still unfamiliar with the detection and tracking technology, according to Kayrros, because it is something new. Yet the tech continues to evolve: offshore methane emission tracking is in the works, and the precision of the existing technology is continuously improving, making it possible to detect even smaller methane releases, which would ultimately set the stage for a lot more emission-cutting action than currently possible.
And satellites and algorithms are not where it stops. Blockchain is being put into use for methane emissions tracking, too. The World Economic Forum earlier this month reported that it had released a proof of concept that used blockchain technology to trace methane emissions along the value chain in the metals and mining industry. While not yet set for oil and gas, the fact of this proof of concept’s existence is one more instance of how seriously various agencies are taking methane emissions, suggesting the big emitters in energy need to take note of developments and try to stay on top of them.
“There is an increasing demand for metals and minerals, and an increasing demand for sustainable and responsible and traceable supply chains,” said Jörgen Sandström, Head of Mining and Metals Industry at the World Economic Forum in comments on the blockchain proof of concept news.
“There is a potential to create a full value chain view with downstream visibility, and in partnering with regulators and aligning our work with robust ESG standards, sustainability certification schemes, and assurance frameworks.”
The same could be said about the energy industry. Despite pressure on the oil and gas industry and despite falling demand, the world will continue to need tens of millions of barrels of crude every day for the observable future and maybe beyond it. It will also need billions of cubic meters of gas. At the same time, pressure will be intensifying to extract these barrels and cubic meters as responsibly as possible.
Many in the industry are already aware of the growing importance of methane action. A group of 62 companies from the energy sector united in the UN-led Oil and Gas Methane Partnership earlier this year committed to reduce the amount of methane they emit from both their operated and non-operated assets. Commitments were made in methane emission reporting, too, expanding its scope from just a few sources of emissions across the supply chain to all “material sources of methane emissions” in the industry.
Commitments are all well and good, but they will not be enough for very long—regulators and environmentalists will want to see actual results from these commitments. This is where advanced technology will come in handy. With such detection, tracking, and measurement capabilities available, the industry will no longer be able to shun its methane responsibilities for lack of means to tackle them. Oil and gas companies are being cornered on emissions, and the only way out of this corner is reducing these emissions.