Oil industry heavyweights TotalEnergies, Shell and Chevron are teaming up with Canada’s GHGSat on a research programme to develop and demonstrate a satellite imaging technology to monitor potential anthropogenic methane (CH4) leaks at offshore facilities.

Almost 30% of global oil and gas production takes place offshore and, with a vantage point some 500 kilometres above the Earth and high revisit rates, satellites could hold the key to verifying emissions, easily and cost-effectively, noted GHGSat.

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To find out, the Canadian company is testing a technique developed by NASA, amongst others, and proven on previous research on topics such as ocean height and ice-thickness measurement.

Eighteen offshore sites — six for each operator — in locations including the North Sea and the Gulf of Mexico will be observed during the 12-month research programme that was unveiled on Wednesday.

This new technology, known as Glint Mode, annuls interference effects on data acquisition by observing sun glint on the ocean surface.

This satellite imaging can be combined with local measurements for which TotalEnergies has developed an ultra-light drone-mounted spectrometer.

Smaller leaks

The French energy giant and GHGSat have been working together since 2018 to refine methane emissions measurement thresholds in order to detect smaller emissions on an increasingly smaller scale, allowing leaks to be prevented as far upstream as possible.

“As part of a continuous improvement programme, TotalEnergies has decided to initiate a new stage in its collaboration with GHGSat to develop an innovative satellite mapping technology suited to offshore infrastructure,” said TotalEnergies chief technology officer Marie-Noelle Semeria.

"This technology will build on the methane emissions measurement system for which TotalEnergies holds the accuracy record and strengthen our position as a pioneer in developing methane emissions monitoring technologies."

The initial feasibility assessment of Glint Mode will begin later this year with satellite readings being checked against measurements taken onboard the platforms by handheld devices and drones.

“This is a GHGSat research project but one driven by customer demand," said GHGSat chief executive Stephane Germain.

"Offshore producers are looking for ways to confirm their reported emissions. With this new research, we hope to show that space can provide the data they need, in a timely, reliable, and cost-effective way."

Thirty times more potent

“Measuring offshore emissions properly is important: we need to improve the accuracy of the global methane stock take, replacing estimates with precise data. As methane is 30 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas, over 100 years, reducing CH4 emissions is one of the most effective near-term climate change actions.”

GHGSat for five years has been pioneering the use of high-resolution satellites to measure CH4 emissions. The company’s patented infrared sensor is able to identify the unique signature created by methane as it absorbs sunlight bouncing back off the surface of the Earth.

TotalEnergies claimed its performance in reducing methane emissions is one of the best in the industry.

The company has cut its emissions nearly in half since 2021 by focusing on different sources — among them flaring, venting and fugitive emissions — and by complying with stringent design standards for new projects to ensure that methane emissions are close to zero.

TotalEnergies says it has reduced routine flaring by more than 90% since 2010 and has pledged to eliminate the practice by 2030.

The company's main objective is to maintain emissions intensity below 0.2% of commercial gas produced for oil and gas facilities and below 0.1% for gas facilities.