(SAN FRANCISCO) Innovators around the world are developing new satellite technologies to map and measure emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas responsible for about a quarter of the global warming we’re experiencing today. The development comes just as the Trump administration launches a new attack on rules to control this pollution. Friday morning at California’s Global Climate Action Summit, Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp will explain how EDF and others are turning to space-based solutions to drive emissions reductions on Earth, unlocking a crucial avenue for climate protection.
“MethaneSAT is part of a new wave of environmental innovation that makes invisible problems visible, then helps people solve them,” said Krupp. “Armed with powerful data-gathering technologies, citizens, businesses, universities, local governments, and non-profits like EDF are redefining environmentalism and picking up where the federal government right now is leaving off.”
In an April TED Talk, Krupp announced that EDF is developing MethaneSAT, a compact, purpose-built satellite designed specifically to map and measure methane emissions virtually anywhere on the planet. Data will be available publicly, giving investors, advocates, and the general public a crucial tool to keep industry and regulators focused on reducing emissions.
Now entering into its next major development stage, MethaneSAT will have the ability to measure and map methane emissions from oil and gas fields producing more than 80 percent of global oil and gas production about every four days, quantifying total emissions and tracking both known and previously unknown emission sources. With a wide field of view and low detection threshold, it is designed to measure emissions that other projects have been unable to detect.
Satellite technology is essential for achieving ambitious emission reduction targets. EDF’s goal is to reduce global oil and gas methane emissions 45 percent by 2025. This would deliver the same near-term benefit to the climate as closing 1300 coal-fired power plants — one-third of all the coal plants in the world. The organization aims to virtually eliminate oil and gas methane emissions by 2050.
“Reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry is the fastest, most cost-effective way we have to slow the rate of warming right now — even as we work to rapidly decarbonize our energy system,” said Krupp. “Speed and scale are essential. Satellite data will help companies and governments locate problem sites, identify solutions, and measure progress. And the data will help citizens hold them accountable.”
Other Satellite Efforts
Some methane satellites look at very large areas – thousands of square kilometers – to assess the big picture, while others are being built to take a close-up look at specific point sites. MethaneSAT fills a gap between the two approaches, with the ability to map total emissions from an area with much lower detection thresholds, as well as both known and unknown sources, quantify emissions, and provide regular worldwide monitoring at close intervals.
Other methane satellites include Claire, launched in 2016 by a private company called GHGSAT, which looks at small areas and has a relatively high detection limit. A sister satellite is scheduled to go online next year. Conversely, TROPOMI, launched in 2017 by the European Space Agency, offers global coverage but with lower resolution and a higher detection limit than MethaneSAT.
Each of these systems is designed for a particular purpose, and together they offer excellent synergy. For example, GHGSat could take a close-up look at a particular facility in a region covered by MethaneSAT. Similarly, MethaneSAT might target regions of interest identified by TROPOMI to determine emissions at a finer scale and greater resolution.
“The best way to think of these projects is as a set of overlapping circles, like the Olympic rings,” said Tom Ingersoll, the former CEO of Skybox Imaging and Universal Space Network, who is leading EDF’s MethaneSAT project. “Multiple methods of assessing methane emissions lead to a more complete and actionable set of insights than any single method can by itself.”
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EDF has a team of experts on hand at the Global Climate Action Summit.
For information on MethaneSAT, America’s Pledge, carbon pricing or other issues, contact:
Jennifer Andreassen, firstname.lastname@example.org, or (202) 288-4867 (on-site mobile) or
Jon Coifman, email@example.com, or (212) 616-1325
Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org), a leading international nonprofit organization, creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF links science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships. Connect with us on EDF Voices, Twitter and Facebook.