The Environmental Defense Fund Announces Satellite Mission to Locate and Measure Methane Emissions

MethaneSAT’s mission will give countries and companies robust data to spot problem areas, identify savings opportunities, and measure progress over time

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An artist's rendering of MethaneSAT, a satellite with the singular mission of monitoring global methane emissions.

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) plans to develop and launch a new satellite purpose-built to map and measure oil and gas methane emissions worldwide. The satellite, MethaneSAT, will also be capable of measuring emissions from feedlots, landfills, and other man-made methane sources.

MethaneSAT has a planned launch date of late 2020 or early 2021 and is designed to measure areas of interest with a level of precision not previously available. It will use a wide, 200 kilometre view path at intervals of seven days or less, making it possible to regularly monitor roughly fifty major oil and gas regions accounting for over 80% of global production.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas; emissions from human activities are responsible for a quarter of the warming our planet is experiencing. The oil and gas industry is one of the leading sources of human-made emissions, releasing an estimated 75 million metric tons of methane into the atmosphere each year – enough gas to generate electricity for all of Africa twice over.

EDF President Fred Krupp unveiled MethaneSAT at a TED Talk in Vancouver, British Columbia, as part of The Audacious Project.

“Cutting methane emissions from the global oil and gas industry is the single fastest thing we can do to help put the brakes on climate change right now, even as we continue to attack the carbon dioxide emissions most people are more familiar with,” Mr. Krupp said. “By providing reliable, fully transparent data on a worldwide scale, MethaneSAT will help transform a serious climate threat into a crucial opportunity.”

Cutting methane emissions from the global oil and gas industry is the single fastest thing we can do to help put the brakes on climate change right now.
Fred Krupp
President, Environmental Defense Fund

Simple, cost-effective steps can cut methane emissions dramatically. The International Energy Agency estimates the industry can feasibly reduce its worldwide emissions by 75 percent – and that up to two thirds of those reductions can be achieved at zero net cost.

“Years of data gathered by earth-bound researchers confirm that the oil and gas industry has a serious methane issue. We also know that it’s possible to solve it, and some companies are starting to,” said Mark Brownstein, EDF Senior Vice President for Climate & Energy. “But the pace today doesn’t match the size of the problem. We need to go much farther, much faster. Data from MethaneSAT will give everyone involved a crucial tool to accelerate the process.”

MethaneSAT will involve significant advances on existing technology, in both the design of the instrument on the satellite and the data processing solutions necessary to turn its vast stream of raw data into actionable science that oil and gas companies, governments, investors and others can use to shape and evaluate emissions reduction strategies.

“Our analysis at IEA has consistently emphasized that an effective response to the problem of methane emissions requires good data,” said Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency “Today’s announcement is a major step forward, and continues EDF’s pioneering work in seeking to tackle these emissions worldwide.”

Turning Data into Action

As a core part of the project design, EDF plans to make MethaneSAT data available for free to stakeholders and the public, engaging the oil and gas industry, key governments, institutional and individual investors, and regional and global institutions to ensure sustained long-term data analysis and integration of the results into their thinking on emissions mitigation and verification.

To help companies and countries cut these emissions faster, we need better data that will enable quick, cost effective action. EDF’s MethaneSAT project will help fill this gap, and make us that much smarter as we tackle this threat.
Erik Solheim
Head of UN Environment

“We believe in the power of cutting-edge science to change the world, producing actionable data that can greatly increase businesses’ and government’s ability to make effective policy decisions,” said Dr. Steven Hamburg, EDF’s Chief Scientist. “Transparent data that shows where there are problems and opportunities creates faster and more effective solutions; that’s the goal we’re after.”

EDF has organized an extensive and influential body of scientific work on methane, including a five-year, $20 million series of studies involving more than 140 researchers from over 40 institutions, examining every link in the U.S. oil and gas supply chain. The research, which has generated 35 peer-reviewed scientific papers, shows that emissions are significantly higher than previously estimated. EDF has also examined the industry’s emissions in Canada and Mexico.

“Methane emissions, especially from the oil and gas sector, are a huge driver of climate change. To help companies and countries cut these emissions faster, we need better data that will enable quick, cost effective action,” said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment. “EDF’s MethaneSAT project will help fill this gap, and make us that much smarter as we tackle this threat.”

EDF is also working with ten oil and gas companies representing 20% of worldwide production that together formed the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI) around methane issues, and worked with governments and industry to catalyze the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership (OGMP), a coalition of eight global producers committed to better reporting to reduce methane emissions.

EDF, OGCI, and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) are collaborating on a series of new peer-reviewed studies to measure oil and gas methane emissions in key locations across the globe, which will complement the data collected by MethaneSAT.

The Environmental Defense Fund is a Climate and Clean Air Coalition partner. See their press release here

This story all appeared in the Washington Post and New York Times

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