Powerful methane-detecting satellites are helping to identify previously unseen methane emissions from oil and gas operations. Thanks to rapidly advancing technology, a growing fleet of satellites are supporting the global effort to reduce methane by identifying emissions from space. One unit in the fleet is an orbiter called Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument (Tropomi) which was launched by the European Space Agency in 2018. It is capable of mapping plumes of methane, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxides and various aerosols over industrial facilities and cities as it passes over Europe, Asia, Africa and South America.
The satellite is built to eventually map emissions planet-wide every 24 hours and to show pollutants in high resolution. Tropomi intends to help Europe put appropriate emissions mitigation policies in place. Tropomi may also prove to be a high-water mark for North America, however Tropomi has been exchanging information with the Montreal-based company GHGSat Inc, who previously worked with the Canadian Space Agency in designing a satellite whose spectrometer can focus on an area as small as 164 square feet. This orbiter is intended to pinpoint the exact source of leaking methane from industrial facilities, such as oil and gas operations. Refineries, pipelines and remote fields of oil and gas wellheads can be difficult to monitor, but an orbiting satellite traveling over 4 miles per second can support in the rapid detection of larger leaks.
Additional emerging satellite projects include CarbonMapper and the Environmental Defense Fund’s MethaneSat. These ventures help policymakers develop more effective mitigation policies and support large-scale public understanding. Satellite technology is expected to play an ever-growing role in the oil and gas sector’s methane emission monitoring, providing value to government, industrial, and research stakeholders collectively.