Natural gas, meet Silicon Valley. The challenge for mobile methane monitoring is now underway

Oil and gas methane monitoring

Three years ago, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) united with oil and gas industry leaders including Shell and Statoil to launch the Methane Detectors Challenge – a collaborative effort to catalyze the development and deployment of stationary, continuous methane monitors. With industry pilot projects now cropping up from Texas to Alberta, continuous methane monitoring on natural gas sites is on a pathway to become one of the core tools in the monitoring toolkit.

And that’s a good thing – 24/7 monitoring is the gold standard for emissions control, opening a new frontier in site-level insight. It will enable real time identification and repair of natural gas waste that pollutes the atmosphere, and the industry’s own reputation.

Now, another exciting area of innovation is emerging, as entrepreneurs, technologists, and academics pursue mobile approaches to monitor leaks. Whether by plane, helicopter, drone or truck, mobile monitoring offers the promise of surveying highly dispersed industrial facilities – including smaller and older ones – quickly and effectively. With an estimated one million well pads in the United States alone, the speed and coverage of monitoring matter.

Environmental Defense Fund takes oil and gas operators and local media for a demonstration of mobile monitoring technology from Apogee Scientific

Mobile methane monitoring for some sites could be a perfect complement to continuous monitoring for others, offering a 1-2 punch solution to comprehensively monitor and address emissions across a highly variable industry, with fit-for-purpose tools.

A new collaborative challenge to reduce methane

That’s why we are so pleased to support Stanford University’s Natural Gas Initiative by announcing the Stanford/EDF Mobile Monitoring Challenge (MMC). The MMC is the latest collaborative innovation project from EDF, partnering with Dr. Adam Brandt of Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, the principal investigator for MMC and one of the world’s leading scientists studying oil and gas methane emissions.

Stanford/EDF Mobile Monitoring Challenge – Now accepting applications

The aim of the Mobile Monitoring Challenge is to rigorously test and compare the most promising new mobile technologies and approaches to quickly detect and quantify methane emissions – with extra interest in commercially scalable options.

Calling all methane monitoring entrepreneurs

Today begins a 45-day application period for technologists around the world who wish to participate in 15 days of field trials. Stanford and EDF, aided by industry and other expert advisors, will pick the most promising submissions this fall, and Professor Brandt’s team will oversee field testing with controlled releases of methane this winter and spring, culminating in a Stanford paper documenting results for the peer-review process.

Candidates for the Mobile Monitoring Challenge should have methane monitoring technology that:

  • Is field ready
  • Can be deployed on a mobile platform (e.g. drone, plane, car, truck, etc.)
  • Is cost-effective and can quickly detect leaks at multiple sites
  • Provides both detection and quantification

See the Stanford/EDF application process for full details.

With subsequent real world testing and demonstration, the leading mobile monitoring approaches coming out of this initiative may even support regulatory compliance, propelling greater emission reductions at even less cost – the classic win/win.

Three years ago, EDF was encouraged to receive dozens of technology applications from around the world for the Methane Detectors Challenge. With the ongoing sensor revolution coupled with the surge in methane emissions interest across North America and the world, we are even more optimistic today about what the future holds.

That’s because at EDF, we know that bringing the right stakeholders together to harness diverse thinking and innovative technologies is the next wave of environmental progress.

Let the challenge begin!


Follow Ben on Twitter, @RatnerBen


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Regulation as a Platform for Innovation

IMG_0187To get anything accomplished, you can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. One unsung story buried in last week’s release of EPA’s new source methane rules may make good options even better – driving innovation and offering industry more options to meet the methane challenge.

The new rules target a pervasive problem: methane – the primary component of natural gas – leaking throughout the oil and gas value chain. Methane emissions represent a waste of saleable resources, a reputational risk, and a contributor to both poor local air quality and climate change.

Under the EPA’s framework, oil and gas operators must take steps to minimize emissions from new and modified sources – from finding and fixing leaks to swapping out equipment to reduce methane vented from pneumatic controllers and pumps. Companies in Colorado working to comply with the state’s similar rule have reported that putting similar measures in place is cost-effective, even generating positive returns from selling the captured gas.

But what should an agency do when the solutions available now are reasonable but not perfect? Existing strategies don’t monitor all the time – only a few days a year. So leaks and malfunctions can be missed, or leak for months before they are fixed.

MDC-devices-in-fieldNew technologies – emerging from research labs, startups and mature companies in adjacent sectors – can help spot leaks at lower cost, including through continuous monitoring. EDF’s Methane Detectors Challenge will launch pilots of sensitive, rugged, low-cost continuous methane monitors with oil and gas operators. Due to collaborative partnerships, these innovative technologies are advancing rapidly.

In a regulated industry like oil and gas, adaptability as technology progresses is key to ensuring operators can use more effective and lower-cost solutions as they become available. That insight led many innovators, forward-thinking oil and gas operators and EDF to call on EPA to include a pathway to innovation in the final rule. Read more

Coming Soon: Solutions for Finding Methane Leaks Faster

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Infrared footage of the leak from the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility

After more than four months of spewing potent methane pollution, the massive Aliso Canyon gas leak has finally been plugged. But now the state of California and the utility that owns the site, SoCalGas, are left with the responsibility of ensuring a disaster like this doesn’t happen again.

While Aliso Canyon has captured the attention of the nation, it’s important to remember that there are smaller—and far more prevalent—leaks happening throughout the country’s oil and gas supply chain every day. In fact, those emissions add up to more than 7 million metric tons of methane pollution every year.  That equals over $1 billion worth of wasted natural gas at 2015 prices.

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Map of leaks around the Porter Ranch area

Methane leaks aren’t just wasteful—they have real impacts on communities. In Wyoming, for example, oil and gas pollution has driven up respiratory illness and smog levels to rival those in famously polluted Los Angeles. In California, residents living near the Aliso Canyon leak have already experienced headaches and vomiting; the long-term health impacts of their exposure to these leaks are a big unknown.

While solutions to detect leaks—like the infrared cameras that made the Aliso Canyon geyser visible to the world—are readily available today, a group of technology developers and oil and gas companies are collaborating with EDF to develop even more cost-effective–and automated–technologies to dramatically speed up leak detection. Read more