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Google to share oil and gas methane leaks spotted from space

Working with the Environmental Defense Fund, Google will help pinpoint and map methane emissions with a focus on oil and gas infrastructure.
A rendering of a satellite that will be used to track methane emissions.
A rendering of a satellite that will be used to track methane emissions.MethaneSAT / MethaneSAT via REUTERS
/ Source: Reuters

Google and environmental group Environmental Defense Fund on Wednesday unveiled a partnership to expose sources of climate-warming emissions from oil and gas operations that will be detected from space by a new satellite.

MethaneSAT will launch next month, one of several satellites that are being deployed to monitor methane emissions across the globe to pinpoint major sources of the invisible but potent greenhouse gas. It is a partnership led by EDF, the New Zealand Space Agency, Harvard University and others.

Data from the satellite will be available later this year, and Google Cloud will provide the computing capabilities to process the information.

Google also said it will create a map of oil and gas infrastructure, using artificial intelligence to identify components like oil tanks. MethaneSAT’s data on emissions will then be overlayed with the Google map to assist in understanding which types of oil and gas equipment tend to leak most.

The information will be available through Google Earth Engine, a geospatial analysis platform, later this year. Earth Engine is free to researchers, nonprofits and the news media.

The top satellite image shows a map of dots, which are correctly identified as oil well pads. Using  satellite and aerial imagery, Google applied AI to detect infrastructure components. Well pads are shown in yellow, oil pump jacks are shown in red, and storage tanks are shown in blue.
The top satellite image shows a map of dots, which are correctly identified as oil well pads. Using satellite and aerial imagery, Google applied AI to detect infrastructure components. Well pads are shown in yellow, oil pump jacks are shown in red, and storage tanks are shown in blue.Google

“We think this information is incredibly valuable for energy companies, researchers and the public sector to anticipate and mitigate methane emissions in components that are generally most susceptible,” Yael Maguire, vice president of geo sustainability at Google, said on a call with reporters.

The launch comes as governments are cracking down on the short-lived greenhouse gas source and over 50 major state-owned and independent oil and gas operators ranging from ExxonMobil to Saudi Aramco have pledged at the COP28 climate summit to reduce their methane leaks to near zero by the end of this decade.

The United States is among the biggest methane-emitting countries, and has proposed mandatory measures to stem leaks from oil and gas operations. A new rule by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would allow the public to report large methane leaks to federal regulators if they have access to methane detection technology.

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