A Montreal-based company that has pioneered the use of a small privately owned satellite to spot methane leaks plans to launch more of the microwave-sized greenhouse gas detectors into space.

The company, called GHGSat, has raised $10 million in new funds that it will use to build two more satellites, improved versions of its earliest model, called Claire, which has been orbiting since 2016. It has monitored man-made emissions from over 2,000 sites around the world (Climatewire, March 9).

“They will have an order of magnitude of better performance,” predicted Stéphane Germain, president of GHGSat. The space-based sensors, though, will still be about the same size and shape as Claire.

The company’s targeted market includes oil and gas companies, which can use satellite reports to monitor leaks from refineries, wellheads and lengthy pipeline systems. Currently, GHGSat has contracts with three oil companies—Suncor Energy, Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Imperial Oil Ltd.—and has received financial backing from Schlumberger Ltd., a global oil field services company.

GHGSat is also working with a branch of the Australian government to pinpoint leaks from coal mines and has another contract to identify methane and carbon dioxide leaks from large hydroelectric dams operated by Hydro-Québec.

The public utility and others that generate electricity from dams have learned that when they flood reservoirs, the vegetation growing there decomposes into methane and other gases. Those gases are then released into the air when the water is churned and spilled over large dams.

In an interview, Germain also said his company has had a “long-standing collaboration” with the Environmental Defense Fund, an environmental group based in New York that is planning to build and launch what it calls MethaneSAT. The EDF satellite will have the ability to measure and map emissions from oil and gas fields around the world.

“We’re looking forward to collaborating with them,” Germain said, noting that the EDF satellite is being built to find methane leaking within a 1-square-kilometer area. Claire, which can sense leaks within an area of 25 square meters, could use the information to locate the specific leak, he explained.

In a recent press release, EDF said it will work with both GHGSat and the European Space Agency, which launched a satellite called TROPOMI last year that has a much larger field of view.

“Multiple methods of assessing methane emissions lead to a more complete and actionable set of insights than any single method can by itself,” said Tom Ingersoll, who is working on EDF’s satellite.

By any measure, methane leaks are expensive and will probably become even more costly in the future when regulatory systems, such as the cap-and-trade system used by California and Quebec, become more widespread. The leaks represent a loss of product to an oil company and a breach of pollution regulations that can result in fines by a province or a state.

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) recently suggested that his state might launch its own satellite to catch and deter polluters (Climatewire, Sept. 21).

“The details discussed by Gov. Brown were quite vague,” said Germain of GHGSat. “We are actively seeking to find out more so that we can find ways to collaborate with them.”

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.