Shell, TotalEnergies Join Satellite Effort to Track Methane

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Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Chevron Corp. and TotalEnergies SE are joining a satellite-based effort to track methane emissions from offshore oil and gas platforms.

The project will rely on observations from GHGSat Inc. satellites, which use infrared sensor technology to identify the potent greenhouse gas as it absorbs sunlight bouncing off the surface of the Earth. Tracking offshore emissions would fill a crucial gap in the effort to halt leaks because nearly 30% of the world’s oil and gas production is offshore.

“Measuring offshore emissions properly is important: we need to improve the accuracy of the global methane stock take, replacing estimates with precise data,” GHGSat Chief Executive Officer Stephane Germain said in a statement. “Offshore producers are looking for ways to confirm their reported emissions.”

Halting methane emissions from the fossil fuel industry is viewed as some of the lowest hanging fruit in the fight against global warming because fugitive leaks are both wasted product and a source of reputational damage for operators. Methane, which is the primary component of natural gas but can also be released during coal and oil production, traps roughly 84 times more heat than carbon dioxide in the short term.

Despite advances that have allowed for greater detection of onshore methane plumes through satellite observation, tracking offshore emissions has proven more difficult because water absorbs sunlight when viewed directly from above. GHGSat said its satellites would take measurements from more acute angles and focus on points where the sun’s light reflects most strongly off the sea -- known as the ‘glint spot.’

TotalEnergies said in a statement that it would combine the satellite observations with local measurements from a drone-mounted spectrometer. The Paris-based energy company has been working with GHGSat since 2018 to detect and prevent methane leaks.

The effort will “strengthen our position as a pioneer in developing methane emissions monitoring technologies,” TotalEnergies Chief Technology Officer Marie-Noëlle Séméria said in the statement.

Each of the offshore project’s three industrial participants will have six of their facilities observed, which include assets in the North Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, according to GHGSat.

In February, GHGSat satellites identified leaks from at least eight natural gas pipelines and unlit flares in Turkmenistan that Germain said could have lasted for several hours and would have the same planet-warming impact as 250,000 internal-combustion cars running for a similar amount of time.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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