HSE & Sustainability

‘Enormous Potential’: Satellite Monitoring of Iraqi Oil Fields Reveals Methane Emissions

Industry consortium pilot project successfully demonstrates the significant potential of satellite technology in methane emissions detection and mitigation.

Source: Oil and Gas Climate Initiative

A 9-month campaign using satellites to detect and measure methane emissions from six Iraqi oil fields successfully demonstrated the potential of using satellite technology, while also finding there are limitations to its use.

The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI), along with greenhouse gas monitoring company GHGSat and Norwegian climate consultancy Carbon Limits, conducted the campaign from late 2021 into 2022.

GHGSat conducted more than 175 high-resolution observations using its own satellites over sites that covered a 12×12-km area. The sites were selected on several criteria, including the likelihood of facilities with observable methane emissions based on existing evidence of methane plumes, flaring volumes, and infrastructure age.

These data, along with public satellites, identified methane plumes across Iraq, many above the threshold for emissions.

According to the OGCI, the operators of the sites were contacted to test their interest in receiving actionable data on methane emissions, a challenging process for certain assets, where the OGCI member companies, GHGSat, and Carbon Limits had no previously established network.

The campaign demonstrated there is significant potential for using satellite technology to detect observable methane emissions in Iraq and globally.

“Working with OGCI has demonstrated that satellite-based emissions monitoring is a cost-effective tool that can help operators deliver tangible reductions in methane emissions from oil and gas facilities,” GHGSat CEO Stephane Germain said in a statement. “This pilot study is important because it shows how collaboration with trusted partners can be applied in the real world and demonstrates how satellite technology can be effectively integrated into broader leak detection and repair campaigns.”

More than 80% of the GHGSat observations, with some as low as 70 kg of methane per hour, identified and quantified emission rates where present, with the remaining detections inconclusive due to observation challenges like presence of water near the source, cloud coverage, and dust storms.

The observations were made at the six separate sites every 10 to 15 days, with an average of six detections made per site. About 20% of the observations confirmed the presence of a methane source above the minimum threshold of 100 kg of methane per hour. At two of the monitored sites, no emissions above the threshold were observed, the report said.

“This innovative pilot program led by OGCI and GHGSat has clearly shown that satellite technology alongside direct engagement and knowledge sharing with local operators has enormous potential to make significant and cost-effective reductions in methane emissions,” OGCI Vice President Strategy & Policy Julien Perez said in a release.

Additionally, the satellite monitoring program provided data that the operators were able to use to explore technical solutions for mitigation. At one site, for example, improvements to routine procedures were made by the operators, reducing repeatedly observed methane emissions in the range of 0.5 to 8.0 t methane per hour to a level not detectable by satellite over the course of a few months in 2022, according to the report.

OGCI noted that some emission sources take longer to address and require larger capital investments. The most common emissions sources observed, established in communication with the operators, were associated gas flaring, direct venting, and maintenance events.

OGCI noted that a key learning from the campaign is that the importance of an OGCI-member company presence or relations with local operators allowed for effective and prompt reaction on the ground, leading to emission reductions. Another key learning was that the sharing of information and capacity building on methane emissions was well received by all local operators.

According to the OGCI, the campaign will continue through the fall of 2023 with three other countries: Algeria, Kazakhstan, and Egypt.

“Beyond the OGCI Satellite Monitoring Campaign, large opportunities exist for rapid, effective action on methane in the oil and gas sector through a combination of satellite observations at the country and asset level, as well as targeted engagement with the operators, especially those with limited knowledge of the emission sources and mitigation options,” the OGCI said.