Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, with more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it is released. At least a quarter of today’s global temperature increases are caused by methane from human sources. And one of the largest sources of these emissions today is the oil and gas industry.
Cutting oil and gas methane emissions is the single fastest, most impactful thing we can do to slow the rate of warming today, even as we work to decarbonize our energy system. Reducing oil and gas methane emissions 45% by 2025 would have the same 20-year climate benefit as closing 1,300 coal-fired power plants.
MethaneSAT will provide regular monitoring of regions accounting for more than 80% of global oil and gas production, identifying not only the location but also quantifying the emissions rate with unprecedented precision — giving MethaneSAT the ability to monitor changes in total emissions over time. MethaneSAT will also be able to measure methane from industrial agriculture and other sources.
MethaneSAT will locate and measure methane emissions from oil and gas operations almost anywhere on Earth, producing quantitative data that will enable both companies and countries to identify, manage, and reduce their methane emissions, slowing the rate at which our planet is warming.
Other satellites can either identify emissions across large geographic areas or measure them at predetermined locations. MethaneSAT will do both. It will cover a 200-kilometer (124-mile) view path, passing over target regions every few days. Along with a wide field of view, the instrument will provide highly sensitive, high-resolution methane measurements.
An imaging spectrometer will separate the narrow band within the shortwave infrared spectrum where methane absorbs light, enabling MethaneSAT to detect methane concentrations as low as two parts per billion, and focus in on areas as small as 100 meters.
Once the raw information is transmitted back to Earth, an innovative data platform will automate complex analytics, transforming a process that now takes scientists weeks or months into one that provides users with a continuous stream of actionable data in a matter of days.
The platform algorithms will calculate the rate that methane is escaping into the atmosphere based on winds and other atmospheric conditions, determining the location and volume of methane coming from individual point sources as well as cumulative emissions across larger areas.
MethaneSAT LLC is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the non-profit Environmental Defense Fund, which has a long record of working successfully with both businesses and policymakers to create innovative, science-based solutions to critical environmental challenges. EDF has also been a leader in methane research, policy and management practices.
Beginning in 2012, EDF organized an unprecedented series of 16 independent studies that produced more than 50 peer-reviewed scientific papers involving more than 150 academic and industry experts to assess methane emissions at every stage in the U.S. oil and gas supply chain. A 2018 synthesis of the work published in Science found that the U.S. oil and gas industry was emitting at least 13 million metric tons of methane a year—nearly 60% more than government estimates at the time.
MethaneSAT is intended to both enable and motivate faster action to reduce these emissions. With many oil and gas companies starting to set methane reduction goals and a growing number of states and countries looking to strengthen methane policies, the need for accurate, high-resolution quantification of total emissions that can be tracked over time has never been greater.
But the data won’t be just a tool for industry and governments. The mission was also founded on the principle of transparency: making data available at no cost so stakeholders and citizens can see and compare the progress across both companies and countries.
The idea for MethaneSAT was first unveiled by EDF President Fred Krupp in an April 2018 TED Talk, as one of the inaugural group of world-changing ideas selected for seed funding by the Audacious Project, successor to the TED Prize.