Mission to reduce methane pollution

  • 25%The amount of today's global warming that is driven by human-caused emissions of methane

The oil and gas industry is the largest U.S. industrial source of methane pollution.

But how much methane is leaking was unknown until EDF brought together more than 140 scientists from 40 institutions to publish dozens of peer-reviewed papers that sized up the problem.

The conclusion: leakage is a whopping 60 percent higher than the EPA estimated. Once found, most leaks are not hard to fix.

The findings helped shape new state regulations in California, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Wyoming, along with the first national standards to reduce emissions from oil and natural gas production.

Now we’re using the data – and the courts – to hold the line against misguided attempts by the Trump administration to roll back those standards.

Launching a satellite to measure and map methane

MethaneSAT

MethaneSAT, shown in an artist's rendering, aims to help reduce methane pollution.

To take our solutions to global scale, EDF is developing MethaneSAT, a satellite to measure methane emissions worldwide, in partnership with Harvard and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

Due to launch in 2021, MethaneSAT includes a high-precision instrument with a wide field of view to map emissions that other satellites have been unable to detect. It will cover regions that encompass more than 80 percent of global oil and gas production.

MethaneSAT is a major step forward and continues EDF's pioneering work in seeking to tackle these emissions worldwide.

Fatih Birol, executive director, International Energy Agency

“Satellite-derived data will help companies and governments locate problem sites and measure progress,” says EDF Chief Scientist Dr. Steven Hamburg. “And we will make our data public, to help citizens hold companies and governments accountable.”

MethaneSAT is just one of EDF’s forays into emissions detection. We also called on technology developers to design ways to detect methane emissions using sensors mounted on field equipment, trucks, drones and planes.

Our aim is to have oil and gas industry leaders pilot the best of these technologies. One solution already being used by Shell and Equinor is a solar-powered laser system that uploads data continuously.

The International Energy Agency estimates that half of the methane emitted from the global oil and gas supply chain could be stopped at no net cost, in part because energy companies can sell the extra gas captured.

“Cutting methane emissions from the global oil and gas industry is the single fastest thing we can do to put the brakes on climate change now,” says Mark Brownstein, EDF’s senior VP for Energy.

Fighting climate change from space

Fourth Wave pioneer spotlight
Steve Hamburg and Tom Ingersoll

Dr. Steven Hamburg and Tom Ingersoll

Tom Ingersoll, a successful satellite entrepreneur, was surprised last year when he got a call from EDF’s chief scientist, Dr. Steven Hamburg. Hamburg said EDF wanted to build and launch a satellite to help fight climate change – and wondered if Ingersoll would consider leading the effort.

“I thought, ‘Wow, that’s kind of crazy for a nonprofit,’” recalls Ingersoll, the former CEO of Skybox Imaging, a satellite imaging company acquired by Google in 2014.

After studying the technological hurdles, Ingersoll signed on to head the project. “It will be difficult but doable,” he says, “and the potential benefits for society are huge.”

The new satellite, MethaneSAT, will track methane emissions from oil and gas fields with unprecedented precision. It will also be capable of measuring emissions from landfills and agriculture.

The space mission – the first by an environmental group – is an example of how technological innovation is unleashing a new era of environmental progress. “EDF will be a trail-blazer for the concept of using the power of space and remote sensing to address a wide range of problems on a not-for-profit basis,” says Ingersoll.

The sky, it turns out, is not the limit.