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One virtual thing: Try cutting methane emissions yourself

A person using a VR headset
Axios reporter Amy Harder tries out a virtual reality challenge cutting methane emissions at a conference June 26. Photo: Stacy MacDiarmid

Oil and gas companies are increasingly focusing on how to cut emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that’s also the primary component of natural gas. At a conference underway in Washington, attendees can try for themselves with virtual reality.

Why it matters: With the world’s use of natural gas growing, determining its impact on climate change is key. While many people are familiar with carbon emissions, less awareness exists around methane. A virtual reality exhibit by the Environmental Defense Fund at the World Gas Conference is aimed at making something intangible to most people seem less so — at least virtually.

The intrigue: EDF’s exhibit allows people to virtually experience what it’s like to be a worker at an oil and natural gas well site monitoring and stopping leaks of methane. I had a chance to experience it during the conference’s first day Tuesday.

  • You start in a spaceship that tells you about why methane emissions are important, and then a robot named Bella shows how you can transport yourself to an oil and gas well site.
  • Along with goggles and headphones, you also hold what resemble video game handles, which in the experience appear as gloves and change to other gadgets as needed.
  • You then embark on what the group calls a “Methane Challenge,” having a few minutes to try to find all the leaks on the site you can, using infrared camera that can show the leaks of methane and other technologies.
  • There are apparently six leaks you can find in the virtual well site; I got four. Only two people on Tuesday found all six, an EDF spokeswoman says.

Situational awareness: EDF is the only environmental group with space at the event, whose registration fee starts at $4,000. EDF is one of the only environmental groups that works closely with the industry, despite its scrutiny of the sector’s role exacerbating climate change. The group co-sponsored its first-ever event with ExxonMobil on Monday (it was on methane).