Contest yields new technologies for finding natural gas leaks

Sept. 10 (UPI) — As detailed in a study, the participants in Stanford University’s Mobile Monitoring Challenge have developed a variety of technologies for finding natural gas leaks.

Though a “challenge” by name, the effort yielded no winners. Most participants focused on very specific aspects of mobile gas detection, like how to pinpoint the precise location or size of a methane leak. Participants developed technologies for trucks, drones and airplanes.

“The technologies are generally effective at detecting leaks, and can act as a first line of defense,” Adam Brandt, an associate professor of energy resources engineering, said in a news release. “Gas system operators will often want to confirm leaks with conventional optical gas imaging systems, but these mobile technologies usually tell you where to look for leaks very quickly.”

Traditional optical gas imaging systems must be deployed by people. Two workers can typically use imaging systems to identify leaks at four to six wells per day. It’s a time consuming and costly way to detect leaks.

Mobile technology can help gas companies monitor leaks cheaper and more efficiently.

Scientists at Stanford detailed the results of the Mobile Monitoring Challenge this week in the journal Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene.

Eight of the nine technologies successfully located natural gas leaks more than 75 percent of the time. Five of nine found leaks 90 percent of the time, even when leaks were especially small. One of the drone-based gas detection technologies found 100 percent of leaks with no false positives.

“This is only the first step to demonstrating that these technologies could help reduce emissions on a level equivalent to existing approaches,” Brandt said. “The tests were run in the spring of 2018, and I’m sure most — if not all — of these technologies have been improved since then.”

Previous studies have suggested methane leaks at natural gas wells are underestimated. The natural gas is to blame for as much as 25 percent of global warming. In 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took steps to ramp up natural gas monitoring efforts and reduce methane emissions. Last month, the agency reversed course, rolling back regulations for methane emissions.

“The recent U.S. EPA announcement about rolling back methane regulations is not just bad for the environment, but also deprives oil and gas communities of high-paying, local jobs that these innovative technology companies could create,” said Arvind Ravikumar, lead study author. “Rolling back the regulations could stifle development of these technologies.”

While some of the technologies produced by challenge participants focused on pinpointing small leaks, two teams of researchers developed technologies designed to find big leaks quickly. Research suggests just a handful of “super emitters” are responsible for majority of methane emissions in the United States.

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