The Methane Detectors Challenge is a partnership between Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), oil and gas companies and distributors, US-based technology developers, and other experts.
The technology, which is being tested as a tool to continuously monitor for unplanned releases of methane, was installed last month at a PG&E natural gas storage facility in northern California.
San Francisco-based startup Acutect developed the laser-based technology. It was one of 20 submissions received as part of the Methane Detectors Challenge, which aims to bring to market new technologies that quickly detect methane leaks.
The PG&E pilot will study the reliability, accuracy and durability of the solar-powered tool over three months in a field setting.
“The U.S. oil and gas industry loses about $2 billion of natural gas a year from leaks at dispersed sites, much of them undetected for months due to lack of continuous monitoring,” said Aileen Nowlan, manager of the Methane Detectors Challenge.
The PG&E pilot follows the recently released final emissions estimates from last year’s Aliso Canyon natural gas leak — the largest in US history. In October, California air officials said the leak emitted 109,000 metric tons of methane from late October 2015 to mid-February 2016. Southern California Gas Co. will have to mitigate climate impacts from the natural gas leak.
Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is emitted across the US oil and gas supply chain at a rate of more than 9.8 million metric tons per year. Technologies that continuously detect methane emissions can improve air quality and operational efficiency as well as recapture resources that would otherwise be wasted.
EDF says continuous 24-hour monitoring offered by this new tool could cut the time it takes to detect leaks from months to hours.
The Obama administration has set a goal to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 percent to 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025. Last month the US Interior Department finalized a rule to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations on public and tribal lands.
“At PG&E, we believe that climate change is, in fact, a reality and we maintain a steadfast conviction to doing all we can to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said gas regulatory senior director Jim Howe in a statement. “The state of California has set clear goals regarding emissions reductions, which PG&E proudly supports and is actively working to help achieve. This work with EDF and innovative methane detection technologies will be instrumental to this effort as well as our support of industry partners as they set and achieve their own emissions reductions goals.”
Next year oil and gas producer Statoil will pilot another laser-based technology developed by Quanta3, a Colorado startup founded to participate in the Methane Detectors Challenge.