Field trials of eight emerging methane detection technologies that use satellite and aerial emission surveillance are getting the once over by ExxonMobil at nearly 1,000 sites across Texas and New Mexico.

The supermajor is evaluating the effectiveness and scalability of a range of next-generation detection technologies, which in addition to satellites, use drones, planes, helicopters, ground-based mobile and fixed-position sensors.

All of the technologies and deployment methods that get the green light could be used to detect leaks and identify potential solutions, which could be shared with other oil and natural gas operators.

“By testing the most promising methane detection technologies in a field environment, we are providing viable solutions that can be adopted by other producers to detect and reduce methane emissions,” said ExxonMobil’s Staale Gjervik, senior vice president of unconventional. “We are applying scientific rigor and taking aggressive steps to find commercially scalable and affordable solutions for all operators.”

The technologies are being validated by ExxonMobil using field observations, optical gas imaging cameras and portable methane detection instruments. ExxonMobil is also comparing measurements to downwind emissions observations using technology by Aerodyne Research that enables site emissions to be measured holistically.

Aerial surveillance monitoring undergoing testing by ExxonMobil include technologies by Bridger Photonics, Scientific Aviation, Kairos Aerospace, Leak Surveys Inc. and SeekOps. GHGSat’s satellite surveillance and mAIRsure’s truck-mounted monitor also are in tests, as well as a fixed-position monitor by Troposphere.

“We are already seeing the benefits of some of these technologies,” said Gjervik. “Through the trials, we have discovered methane sources that would otherwise not have been detected as efficiently or quickly under the current methods prescribed by regulations. The company is committed to immediately investigating and fixing methane emissions that are detected during the trial.”

The field trials build upon other emission reduction initiatives by ExxonMobil. At the end of 2019, the Irving, TX-based producer had reduced emissions by nearly 20% in its Lower 48 operations from 2016 levels. Management said the company remains on track to meet corporate-wide commitments by the end of this year to reduce methane emissions by 15% and reduce flaring by 25%.

Last month ExxonMobil unveiled a model regulatory framework to reduce methane emissions, which comes as the oil and gas industry faces increasing pressure to decarbonize by following environmental, social and governance standards. The framework is based on the voluntary methane reduction program initiated by subsidiary XTO Energy Inc. in 2017, which prioritizes replacing components with a high-leak potential at production sites, technology enhancements to infrastructure, and data gathering/research.
The methane tests by ExxonMobil come as new measurements by atmospheric scientists in the most productive part of the Permian Basin indicate methane is escaping from oil and natural gas wells at a loss rate of around 3.5%, around three times the nationwide rate. ExxonMobil is one of the basin’s top oil and gas producers.

The scientists, using the Environmental Defense Fund PermianMAP initiative, detected a 3.5% loss rate in a study area, roughly 15 times higher than targets set by some of the region’s leading exploration and production operators and higher than many have reported.

The rate detected represents an estimated loss of 1.4 million metric tons/year of natural gas, the nonprofit said.