Five of the biggest U.S. natural gas producers are collaborating with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to ask engineers and technology inventors to submit their best ideas for continuous methane detection at oil and natural gas operations.

Apache Corp., BG Group, Hess Corp., Noble Energy Corp. and Southwestern Energy Co. joined with EDF in the Methane Detectors Challenge to help catalyze new technology. They launched a 75-day request for proposals (RFP) on Thursday.

"Apache is committed to expanding the use of natural gas as a replacement for less environmentally friendly fuels," said Vice President Jon A. Graham, who handles health, safety, security and environment. "Achieving this goal will require the support and confidence of all stakeholders. But we know there is more work to do in order to be good stewards of this resource."

Last month the Obama administration released its much-anticipated methane strategy, outlining steps and a timetable for reducing emissions from the oil and natural gas sector and other sources (see Daily GPI, March 28). The timetable runs through the remainder of the president's term in office.

The proposed technologies that meet the specifications of the challenge would undergo independent testing at no cost at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) laboratory in San Antonio. The most promising technologies that meet the required specifications would advance to pilot field trials at facilities run by the participating operators.

EDF and producer representatives would select the technologies. The group would be advised by, among others, independent experts from Clean Air Task Force, Harvard University and the University of Houston. The top performing technologies are to be selected in 2015.

"The Methane Detectors Challenge presents a tremendous opportunity for innovative and environmentally conscious engineers and scientists," said Aerodyne Research President Chuck Kolb. "Not only is this a chance to test their innovations in a well-controlled setting and receive practical feedback on real-world deployment, the challenge may accelerate technology that will have positive global impacts on our current and future environment, economy and energy supply."

EDF's Ben Ratner, who manages the natural gas program, said the challenge was initiated by the environmental group to "jump start the market in finding solutions that could cut emission detection time from months to minutes. We're collaborating with leading companies, researchers, and other experts because we all see the promise of unlocking emerging technology to help the climate in a big way."

The RFP and application form are available at Participants also may discuss proposals with a group formed on