​Satellite launch aims for increased scrutiny of methane emitters

GHG satellite monitoring Image: GHGSat Inc.

Energy and commodity producers releasing methane into the atmosphere will face increased scrutiny with the launch of the first satellite claiming the ability to monitor individual culprits.

Iris – a microwave-sized gadget was set to be launched into orbit from French Guiana this weekend, – will be able to track methane released from oil and gas wells, coal mines, power plants, farms and factories around the globe, Stephane Germain, chief executive officer of Montreal-based developer GHGSat Inc., said in an interview.

The launch has been rescheduled for June 23 due to weather.

The energy industry has been under mounting pressure to curb its emissions of methane, one of the most harmful gases for the atmosphere. Enough of the gas leaked from the Permian Basin oilfields in West Texas and New Mexico to heat more than seven million homes, an April study from Harvard University and Environmental Defense Fund showed.

Methane is more than 80 times more potent a global warming agent in the first 20 years than carbon dioxide.

Iris is equipped with an enhanced spectrometer that will be able to quantify emissions by site, company and across supply chains, Germain said. GHGSat has received a request to help determine if it’s greener to import natural gas into Europe or burn coal in the continent’s old power plants, he said.

The satellite will cover the surface of the earth every two weeks, Germain said. GHGSat plans to have 10 satellites of this kind up by the end of 2022 to increase the frequency of the data it provides.

“Methane currently is not directly measured across the globe, and what is not measured will not be fixed,” said Pratima Rangarajan, CEO Of OGCI Climate Investments, a minority investor in GHGSat through its more than $1 billion fund managed by an oil and gas industry group. This satellite should “help bring actionable data to the world,” she said.

© 2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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