With this technology, methane leaks never out of sight, out of mind


An inspector uses a FLIR camera to detect methane gas leaks.


Out of sight, out of mind. This certainly applies to methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.

That’s because methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas and the primary constituent of natural gas, is invisible to the naked eye.

And it’s one reason methane emissions, while a significant threat to our environment, don’t get the attention they should from policymakers or the public when compared to, say, conspicuous oil spills.

But we have the technology to make the invisible visible. As you’ll see in the video below, fugitive methane emissions look very much like an oil spill in the sky.


The footage comes from FLIR, a maker of optical gas imaging cameras and one of the largest companies in the methane mitigation industry.

The company participated in a recent briefing on Capitol Hill intended to educate policymakers on the negative environmental implications of methane emissions, during which they showed the video.

I was there and saw what impact these images had.

Around me, people were gasping as they watched plumes of methane leaking from well sites, processing plants and valves; pollution that was now visible through the infrared camera.

We had already heard a number of great presentations on the issue that day, but once FLIR hit the play button, everyone got it.

The ominous large black plumes of methane and other hydrocarbons show how methane pollutes our atmosphere, endanger workers, and risks the health of local communities. 

Making progress on methane

Enough methane is lost each year to fill more than 120 tanker ships carrying liquefied natural gas, about $1.7 billion worth. This is massive waste, but it also contributes in a big way to climate change; methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the short-term.

The good news is, we have proven technologies available today to find and fix methane emissions – investments that would cost industry less than a penny per thousand cubic feet of produced gas. If deployed, these technologies could slash onshore methane emissions by 40 percent in just five years.

To get the full extent of these reductions, however, it’s critical that we get good, comprehensive federal policy that covers both new and existing sources of methane.

This is because nearly 90 percent of emissions in 2018 would come from sources already in existence today, meaning we would only address 2 percent of methane pollution with a policy focused on new sources only.

It’s time we tackle these “oil spills in the sky,” once and for all, and with rules that apply to all oil and gas operations.

Sean Wright

Sean Wright

Sean Wright is a senior analyst at EDF's Corporate Partnerships Program. Sean’s primary focus is mitigating methane emissions from the natural gas supply chain.

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