Google to use AI to track methane hotspots from oil and gas sector

Google has partnered with global non-profit climate group Environmental Defence Fund (EDF) to tackle methane emissions worldwide through the deployment of MethaneSAT, an innovative satellite technology.

Google to use AI to track methane hotspots from oil and gas sector

Google's artificial intelligence (AI) technology will recognise oil and gas infrastructure in satellite imagery.

The technology giant will provide its Cloud services to EDF’s satellite MethaneSAT, which aims to facilitate more effective monitoring of oil and gas machinery and support efforts to mitigate methane leaks and emissions.

Additionally, Google’s artificial intelligence (AI) technology will recognise oil and gas infrastructure in satellite imagery, enhancing emission attribution accuracy.

The satellite has been developed by a coalition of experts from leading institutions including Ball Aerospace, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, IO Aerospace, the New Zealand Space Agency, Rocket Lab and SpaceX.

The satellite is designed to orbit the Earth 15 times a day at an altitude exceeding 300 miles, gathering regularly refreshed data to pinpoint methane leaks with precision.

Google Cloud’s computing capabilities will process MethaneSAT’s data stream quickly and securely.

The company is also working to integrate MethaneSAT data into Google Earth Engine, its own geospatial data platform, to provide even broader access to potential users.

This will enable the creation of a public map of methane emissions that updates regularly, accessible via Google Earth Engine.

The satellite, assembled in Colorado, has been transported to California’s Vandenberg Space Force for imminent launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in early March.

Global methane emissions

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has stated that methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases.

According to the IEA, the global energy sector generated 134 million tonnes of methane in 2019, while agriculture generated 139 million tonnes.

Google’s initiative will focus on mitigating methane emissions from the oil and gas sector instead of agriculture.

There is currently no international rule on controlling methane emissions. However, most countries have signed a voluntary ‘Methane Pledge’, targeting a 30% reduction in energy sector methane by 2030.

Last year, the EU agreed to a set of policy proposals aimed at curbing methane emissions. This includes requiring oil and gas operators to repair leaks. In the coal sector, flaring is slated to be banned in member states from 2025.

Google’s AI approach

In October of last year, Google launched a series of new AI solutions to decarbonise the transport and energy sectors. It has also built an AI-powered forecasting system for floods, wildfires and heatwaves.

In the sustainability space, there are fears that while AI can be used to reduce environmental impacts, it is also being used by energy majors for fossil fuel exploration and extraction.

Google made a new set of commitments on the responsible use of digital technologies in spring 2020, including a commitment to end the development of bespoke AI solutions for the fossil fuel sector that could be used to maximise oil and gas extraction or aid exploration.

Comments (1)

  1. Richard Phillips says:

    EDF supply my electricity; Electricite de France!!

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