Finding natural gas leaks more quickly and at lower cost could reduce methane emissions. Last year, ten promising technologies mounted on drones, trucks and airplanes, competed in the Mobile Monitoring Challenge, the first independent assessment of moving gas leak detectors at well sites.
The organizers had no intention of declaring a winner, as the technologies focused on different aspects of leak detection, such as exact location or size of the leak. While the technologies are still in development, overall, they all found gas leaks quite well.
Leaks in the production, processing and transport of natural gas emit methane – the main constituent of natural gas – into the atmosphere. Methane is 36 times more potent than carbon dioxide. In 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency moved to reduce methane emissions across the natural gas industry, which spurred the development of faster, less expensive detection technologies.
All technologies were effective at detecting leaks. However, most of the systems tested need to improve their ability to quantify the size of the escapes.
“This is only the first step to demonstrating that these technologies could help reduce emissions on a level equivalent to existing approaches,” Adam Brandt, an associate professor of energy resources engineering and the senior author of the study, said. “The tests were run in the spring of 2018, and I’m sure most – if not all – of these technologies have been improved since then.”
The Mobile Monitoring Challenge was not a head-to-head competition because the technologies tested are designed to accomplish different things.
No single technology can meet all the requirements for leak detection and quantification across the natural gas supply chain. The key to large-scale deployment is to match the strength of each technology, like speed, accuracy and cost, with the right leak detection application. What works for a complex processing facility might not work for long-distance transmission pipelines.