Methane satellites usher in new era of emissions visibility and transparency

Methane emissions from the oil and gas industry have leapt to the top of the global climate agenda. Investors are increasingly concerned with financial, regulatory, and reputational risks associated with this potent source of climate warming. But one stubborn challenge has persisted for operators, regulators, and investors alike: quantifying how much methane is emitted from where.

Research has shown that emissions of methane, which has 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame, occur throughout the oil and gas supply chain at a much higher rate than reflected in industry or government estimates. But methane is invisible and odorless, and detecting leaks requires deliberate effort and specialized equipment that energy companies have not been required to deploy. Investors have begun to look more closely at company methane strategies, and the way these may affect competitiveness and energy transition risk. They often face limitations in the accuracy and reliability of available data. 

Now, a growing ecosystem of satellites is addressing these challenges head-on to show where methane emissions are coming from. This is the time for both oil and gas companies and investors to implement ambitious methane abatement strategies, in anticipation of this revolution in methane data.

The methane-measuring satellite ecosystem

On track to launch in 2024, MethaneSAT will join existing satellites like TROPOMI, GHGSat and others in an emerging network of methane-measuring satellites, each with unique strengths and capabilities. (For a deeper dive, read EDF’s new report on MethaneSAT).

Wide viewpath satellites, like TROPOMI, can detect a range of pollutants across a wide swath of Earth and provide broad methane concentration data that scientists can use to calculate emission levels. Target-mode instruments like GHGSat measure methane emissions from individual facilities, but cannot measure emissions beyond their narrow field of view. 

MethaneSAT will fill these capability and data gaps. It will have a wide field of view, high level of precision, and fine spatial resolution that will be able to quantify methane emissions from the vast majority of global oil and gas production regions – determining from where and at what rate methane is escaping. Together, these measurements can help companies and governments prioritize where emission reduction efforts should be focused.

Already, forward-thinking companies can partner with satellite companies to collect confidential emission data for their assets. Once launched, MethaneSAT data will be public, giving operators, investors, regulators and the public unprecedented ability to monitor methane emissions across geographies.

Implications for Every Part of the Oil and Gas System

Energy producers, of course, will be front and center. Whether they embrace or reject the coming wave of emissions transparency will tell the world just how seriously they are taking the climate crisis and their responsibility to play a productive role in addressing it. Today, a company’s involvement with initiatives like OGMP 2.0 is a barometer of its methane commitment. Satellite emission data will provide a new layer of insight and accountability. 

As the number and capabilities of emission-detecting satellites expand, investors and energy buyers will have reliable, comparable emissions data that can be applied across regions, companies, and facilities. Investors will be able to judge a company’s competitiveness in methane management relative to peers, and oil and gas buyers will be able to screen for lower-emission supply regions and suppliers.

Taking Charge of the New Frontier

Though methane emissions have become a global climate priority, oil and gas companies are not yet doing enough to manage them. The International Energy Agency reports that energy industry methane emissions rose last year, despite the fact that cost-effective mitigation solutions are widely available and cost-effective. IEA’s executive director, Fatih Birol, put it simply: “There is just no excuse.” 

We could not have said it better. As MethaneSAT ushers in an era of enhanced methane emissions transparency, all stakeholders – from operators to governments to investors – will benefit from new insight into this serious and solvable problem.