Google-backed satellite to track global methane emissions

Alex Omenye
Alex Omenye

Launched on Monday from California, a new satellite, backed by Alphabet’s Google and the Environmental Defense Fund group, aims to detect methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.

Named MethaneSAT, the satellite will join the existing fleet of spacecraft dedicated to combating climate change by providing data on emissions of this potent greenhouse gas.

While other initiatives like the European Space Agency and GHGSat offer methane emissions data, MethaneSAT promises more detail and a broader field of view.

The Environmental Defense Fund highlighted that MethaneSAT’s data would hold over 50 oil and gas companies accountable, especially those that pledged to eliminate methane emissions and routine gas flaring at the Dubai COP28 climate summit.

This information will also assist companies in preparing for upcoming methane regulations in the EU and the U.S., including a methane pollution fee.

Mark Brownstein, Senior Vice President for Energy Transition at EDF, mentioned, “We’ll be able to see who the laggards are, but hopefully, they will use that information in a constructive way to improve their performance.”

Developed in collaboration with the New Zealand Space Agency and Harvard University, MethaneSAT’s data will be made available to the public later this year. Google Cloud will provide the computing capabilities necessary to process the information.

Methane emissions, originating from various sources like oil and natural gas production, agricultural waste, and landfills, have a significantly higher greenhouse gas potency than carbon dioxide.

However, the American Petroleum Institute, representing the oil industry, emphasized that third-party emissions data should undergo verification before being used for regulatory purposes.

Aaron Padilla, API Vice President of Corporate Policy, noted, “The environmental regulator is still going to be paramount here as the authority in terms of validating the data.”

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