May 11, 2021 - Science

Exclusive: New project tracks natural gas flaring using space data

Earth by night with lights dotting the planet as seen from above
An image of Earth by night as seen by the Suomi NPP satellite in 2012. Photo: NASA Earth Observatory

A new project uses satellite data to track the flares from companies burning off excess natural gas.

Why it matters: Flaring releases carbon dioxide and some methane into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming and making it essential for regulators to keep close tabs on the activity.

What's happening: The project — called Flaring Monitor — is able to pinpoint companies that are flaring at any given time and track them against self-reported flaring data given to state regulatory agencies.

  • The tool could be particularly useful because it's able to tie flaring to specific companies, Robert Kendall, the co-founder of Bazean, the company behind the project, told Axios.
  • The project makes use of imagery from Planet and data from the VIIRS instrument on NASA's Suomi NPP satellite, which helps spot tiny hotspots due to flaring as well as larger ones, such as from wildfires worldwide.

Details: Flaring Monitor has already found that Shell appears to be doing better on flaring than some other large energy companies.

  • "Shell is clearly making different corporate-level decisions that are resulting in these metrics looking different," Kendall said.
  • Many smaller companies are involved in oil and gas drilling in North Dakota, Texas, Pennsylvania and other states, and Flaring Monitor could allow for better monitoring of them as well.

The big picture: Kendall envisions a future in which companies that have a lower carbon intensity for their commodities could have a premium on their stock price because of granular data like this.

What's next: According to Kendall, the company hopes to take the project global eventually, monitoring flaring in other locations aside from the U.S. to help hold other governments and companies accountable and aid in emissions cuts.

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