Insider Q&A: Satellite Company Fights Climate Change

NEW YORK (AP) — Finding and fixing methane leaks has been recognized by scientists as one of the most effective ways to reverse global warming. To help detect these leaks, Canada’s GHGSat launched six satellites to search for methane plumes.

These satellites have made alarming discoveries, including record high methane emissions from the oil and gas industry and rising emissions from coal mines around the world. To help fight climate change, GHGSat plans to launch six more methane-hunting satellites by the end of the year.

And soon it will launch a satellite aimed at another threat – carbon dioxide. Stéphane Germain, president of GHGSat, spoke with The Associated Press about why he believes that armed with information about where the leaks are coming from, companies and countries can take action to slow global warming. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What are the main challenges facing the world in reducing emissions?

A: I like to joke that rocket science and artificial intelligence are the easy part. The hard part is the person. It’s about changing the culture and the actions we need to take in different jurisdictions, in different settings. The way things are done in India can be very different from the way things are done in the United States. And it may differ from how it is done in Latin America. So we must, first of all, make the measurements available so that people know what is really happening in their jurisdictions and in their own operations. But then we need to gradually accelerate our efforts to turn that data into action. It’s one project after another, one initiative after another. Our goal is to make data available to everyone so that ultimately more and more action can be taken and more and more mitigation can happen.

Q: U.S. oil and gas emissions are at record highs. What can be done?

Methane emissions are absolutely higher than they have been in the last couple of years. And it’s not just in the US, but all over the world. We see this in almost every sector. We see it in oil and gas, coal mining and landfills. On oil and gas in particular, I am very pleased to see that efforts to reduce emissions have increased on all fronts. We haven’t seen the results we want to get, that’s for sure.

There are initiatives of operators, there is an initiative of the UN. The Biden administration has proposed new rules that would tighten emissions standards and, we believe, very importantly, make it easier to use new technologies to control and mitigate those emissions. We have to get on with it. It’s just that there is still a lot of work, as can be seen from the trends.

Q: What percentage of methane leaks discovered by your company have been fixed?

A: Right now it’s pretty small. It’s currently in the one percent range, and that’s clearly something we need to improve on. To put this in context, the single percent is worldwide, and includes everything from oil and gas operators in the US to coal mining in China. We have a big opportunity to raise the awareness of all these operators and all these sources so that they know what their actual emissions are and where some of these sources are. In many cases, technologies exist to recover or reduce emissions from these sources, so they are really easy to eliminate.

Q: Can you give an example of when your company discovered a leak and the operator fixed it?

A: It was in the Middle East, where they were interested in monitoring a wide region to find leaks that they didn’t know about and then look for ways to mitigate them. We’ve been doing this for about a year and have found a few outliers. Some of their operators were eliminated immediately.

With another, we brought in a consultant to train and best practice this operator so they understand how they can reduce their emissions. And that ended up being one of the biggest emissions reductions we’ve had to date.

Q: Why do you name companions after children?

A: We name companions after our children because it reminds us of why we do what we do every day. After all, we will leave our planet to future generations, including our own children on the GHGSat team. And for us, it is very gratifying to know that what we do every day will be useful not only for today’s world, but also for the future.

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