The view from space shows industrial methane emissions in Canada are higher than is being reported.
Methane is brutal. The greenhouse gas (CH4) possesses more than 40 times the heat-trapping power of garden-variety carbon dioxide (CO2). And, unfortunately, Western Canadian energy producers send a great deal of it into the sky as they drill for, process, and distribute natural gas. To quantify this pollution, British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan regulators all rely on some combination of industry-supplied data and their own output-based calculations to determine compliance.
In 21015, University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) doctoral student Nazrul Islam initiated a research project using a top-down approach to verify—independent of industry reporting—the emissions quantified in provincial greenhouse gas inventories. The PICS UNBC Fellow studied data from the Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite, or GOSat, a Japanese craft launched in 2009 to measure atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane gases. It works by observing infrared light reflected and emitted from the earth's surface and the atmosphere. The column-averaged mixing ratio of these two gases are calculated from the GOSAT observational data.
Islam used GOSAT data to quantify total methane emissions separately for British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan using a simple mass balance method for the period of 2009 to 2017. He subsequently subtracted wetland and other anthropogenic methane emissions such as cattle feedlots from the satellite-based total methane emissions to estimate emissions from oil and gas sources only. He was able to compare his measurements with official account going back years.
His preliminary results echoed the findings of other independent researchers: emissions estimates based on GOSAT since 2009 suggest that provinces have underestimated most of their annual carbon counts. Islam hopes his findings will inspire regulators to review their methodologies, and perhaps consider space- based monitoring as a compliance mechanism.
“If governments are to keep their promises to the global community, they will need accurate measurements of industry emissions,” he says. “Without accurate measurements it just doesn’t happen.”
Nazrul Islam and his PhD supervisor, UNBC Professor Peter Jackson, have shared their findings with scientists from the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources and the BC Oil and Gas Commission. The parties are keen to collaborate on further research advances, particularly on work which will enable methane detection from any individual facility or source.
Islam, S.N., Jackson, P.L., & McLinden, C.A. (2018, December). Satellite-based Methane Emission Estimates of Western Canada Using Simple Mass Balance Method and Quantifies Oil and Gas Sector Contribution. In AGU Fall Meeting Abstracts.