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The PPM Blog

Google to Use AI to Monitor Methane Emissions from Space

a man wearing a suit and tie smiling at the cameraContributed by Isaac Smith, Principal, PPM Consultants

Late in 2023, I wrote a Journal Article titled: Air Quality Observations from Space (Seriously). In the article, I discussed NASA’s new Air Quality Monitor-1 (AQM-1) and its capabilities to monitor air quality on a global scale. Using satellites versus traditional ground-based monitoring stations has both advantages and disadvantages. You can imagine the satellites aren’t cheap, nor is it easy, or even feasible to work on them if they suffer some sort of damage. But if the satellites can perform as intended, they don’t suffer from the same sort of coverage limitations that traditional, ground-based monitors do, especially in remote areas. This global coverage enables scientists and environmental agencies to track pollution sources, understand regional variations, and assess the long-range transport of pollutants.

Thus far, most of the news articles on this technology have been somewhat general in nature without anything that you could really sink your teeth into. However, a few weeks ago, I saw a headline on this topic that got my attention. The article was titled: Google to share oil and gas methane leaks spotted from space. Now that headline has a lot going on. First, it indicated that one of the largest public companies in the entire world was involved in the project. Second, Google was going to work with the Environmental Defense Fund, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group that is known for its work on issues including global warming, ecosystem restoration, oceans, and human health. Third, and most relevant to me, PPM, and our clients, the project was going to pinpoint and map methane emissions with a focus on oil and gas infrastructure. That is a much bigger deal than your run-of-the-mill monitoring network that records ambient air data or even a location-specific monitor used to measure a pollutant of interest near an industrial facility. This appears to be a coordinated effort to look for leaks that are specific to a single industry that just happens to be in the crosshairs of the Biden Administration, which was openly vilified by President Biden’s 2020 campaign.

Now before this takes a bad turn and becomes a political debate or some sort of ideological commentary, which is commonplace today, the main point is that the satellite, apply named MethaneSAT, is being used to single out the Oil and Gas industry, which is an eye opening concern. The article went on to say that Google will use the data to create a map of oil and gas infrastructure, using artificial intelligence (AI) to identify components like oil tanks. MethaneSAT’s data on emissions will then be overlayed with the Google map to assist in understanding which types of oil and gas equipment tend to leak most. The article included a satellite picture of oil well pads and then a second satellite picture of the well pad using Google’s AI, to detect infrastructure components. I have to say, it was impressive, and it identified the different components (tanks, oil pump, pad, etc.) and color-coded them so you could quickly tell what infrastructure was where. But remember, AI is far from perfect, and this is the same Google AI that has had quite a few hiccups, causing the tech giant to block certain capabilities of their own AI tools due to errors with its results.

According to the article, the information collected by the satellite will be available later this year, through Google Earth Engine, a geospatial analysis platform. Of note, Earth Engine is free to researchers, nonprofits, and the news media. Oddly enough, you may have noticed that the actual oil and gas companies don’t meet any of the criteria that would allow them to have access to the data for free, although they can sign up for commercial access and pay for an account. Also of interest is the new EPA rule that allows the public to report large methane leaks to federal regulators if they have access to methane detection technology. You’ll have to excuse me for being cynical, but I find it remarkably coincidental that the EPA finalized a rule that allows “the public” to report methane leaks one month prior to Google announcing that it has a satellite that identifies methane leaks and provides data to the public.

The fact of the matter is that 99.99% of oil and gas companies want to keep every drop of oil or part per million of any upstream or downstream product in the pipe, tank, etc. They don’t want to have any more leaks than the environmental groups that rail against them want. If we’re going to use passive fence line monitors, optical gas imaging, drones, satellites, AI, and whatever next-generation soon to be released technology to identify leaks, then let’s make sure we quickly provide that data to the folks who own those assets so they stop the leaks and not use a political agenda, the news media, or any other outlet in some roundabout way in an attempt to solve any environmental issue. Feel free to reach out to me at if you have any questions.

Links to other articles or websites on this topic are provided below.

Google to share oil and gas methane leaks spotted from space (

EPA’s Final Rule for Oil and Natural Gas Operations Will Sharply Reduce Methane and Other Harmful Pollution. | US EPA


NASA’s Earth Observing System

NASA Launches TEMPO To Track Air Pollution On A Whole New Level – CleanTechnica

Next Generation Emission Measurement (NGEM) Research for Fugitive Air Pollution | US EPA

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