Fingerprinting Methane Emissions

As researchers across the world debate the source of recent methane concentration increases, with some indicating fugitive emissions from the fossil fuel industry are most important while others look to those from agriculture and landfills, organizations have answered the call for remote methane detection and monitoring tools to improve measurement reliability. For example, from low-Earth orbit, GMI’s longtime partner, GHGSat has been monitoring methane emissions from Canada’s tar sands, among other targeted sites, since launching its first satellite, CLAIRE, earlier this summer.

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Aerial view of the Bakken Oil and Gas Field in North Dakota, U.S., one of the areas included in NOAA’s new study quantifying emissions from oil and gas operations. Credit: NOAA

Earlier this year, a team led by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has debuted a method to monitor and fingerprint methane emissions on a larger scale. Collecting samples from a small twin-propeller aircraft, the team uses the light hydrocarbon ethane as a tracer for methane emitted from oil and gas reservoirs as opposed to methane emitted from biological sources. By reviewing variations in ethane concentrations over time, the research team hopes to show how changes in human activities – for example, increases in natural gas production from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) – have altered methane concentrations and worldwide greenhouse gas loading. Researchers

For more information on the study, check out Scientific American’s recent article or NOAA’s recent news release on the implications of the study.