Innovation In Imaging

Louise Davis

New technologies offer an advanced solution to help oil and gas companies to reach environmental goals, says Robert Kester

In 2020, methane levels reached their highest in four decades. In addition, recent statistics show that methane has a much higher impact on global warming than carbon dioxide, with 25% of current global warming being driven by methane emissions. As a result, it is clear that cutting methane emissions has never been more urgent.

Although a big part of the problem can be attributed to agriculture, wetlands and landfills, oil and gas companies are responsible for significant levels of emissions. Importantly, it’s not always active plants that cause leaks, as many abandoned oil wells continue to emit methane too.

In 2020 alone, oil and gas operations worldwide emitted more than 70 million tonnes of methane into the atmosphere, forcing governments around the world to pay increased attention to the issue. The European Commission, for example, revealed its methane strategy and, as a result, companies are under increased pressure to ‘clean up’. And they’re not the only ones adding pressure. A growing number of investors are now focusing on corporate social responsibility to protect companies’ reputation and address potential climate-related risks.

How Can Technology Help?

With tougher measures in place and ambitious environmental goals to meet, companies are turning to technology to help them combat harmful leaks. A recent UN report found that using existing technology to capture gas leaks could reduce methane emissions by 50% over the next 10 years. It also found that cutting methane emissions is the quickest way to slow global heating. It’s safe to say that companies that are investing in technology to reduce methane emissions can better position themselves given the current circumstances.

Shortfall Of Conventional Approaches

Methods for detecting methane leaks have advanced over time but, like most things, there is still room for improvement, particularly when it comes to efficiency. The most common leak detection approach typically involves sending workers to check sites on a routine basis using Method 21 or handheld optical gas imaging devices. Method 21 is a conventional testing procedure where operators use a portable instrument to detect volatile organic compound (VOC) leaks from individual sources.

This can be a costly and labour-intensive process that could also be prone to human error. Not to mention the potential safety risks of sending workers to potentially hazardous sites. Given the scale of some facilities, it’s hard to estimate how long controllers would take to detect and localise any leaks.

Unfortunately, these methods operate on a ‘hit and miss’ basis as leaks are only captured during the inspection rounds, which doesn’t fully support the overall industry effort towards cutting down emissions.

One solution in this space relies on advanced technology: Honeywell Rebellion’s Gas Cloud Imaging (GCI) system has already been adopted by more than 25 energy and chemical companies.

The GCI system works on a two-fold basis: hyperspectral imaging technology is combined with machine learning analytics to provide a visual monitoring platform for detecting leaks. As each gas has a unique absorption signature in its long-wave infrared spectrum fingerprint, the GCI technology can easily distinguish between different types of gases.

GCI cameras capture infrared hyperspectral video to monitor, quantify and display over 50 types of gases as a leak occurs, analysing data through AI-driven software that uses sensors from every pixel of the image at a rate of 60 times per second. The gas leaks are shown in real-time on both a visible and infrared image with a false-colour overlay for easy-to-interpret results. With a pan, tilt feature, the cameras can be set up to cover a large, pre-programmed area and quickly move to other areas of interest within range, operating 24/7. Snapshots of real-time gas leaks can be offered in less than a second and live videos can be displayed while issuing notifications to site employees.

Where can GCI be used?

The GCI system is not just for the big players in the oil and gas industry. It can be used by smaller companies looking to improve their environmental footprint. Adopting the ‘’bottom-up’’ approach can play a key role in detecting the smaller leaks that can be overlooked during inspections.

As studies have found that approximately 10% of methane sources in one area can account for more than 50% of the total emissions, automated monitoring is essential for operators to spot the more serious leaks, often referred to as the ‘fat tail’. Since high emitting sources can account for a large fraction of emissions, rapidly finding and repairing or replacing these high emitters can be an effective approach to reducing emissions.

The GCI system is available in two options: the GCI LR (long range) for covering larger sites and the Mini GCI designed for smaller, congested sites. Moreover, the new system has a wide range of applications including tank farms, pipelines, refineries, LNG/LPG transportation, gas processing and chemical and power plants.

The portfolio of GCI systems can save companies costs through reduced maintenance, inspections, downtime on facilities and lost product compared to traditional leak detection devices. The economic and environmental impacts of using a GCI system are clear – by identifying and stopping gas leaks earlier, customers can help meet both their business and environmental goals.

In short, the GCI system is a straight-forward process. As soon as a detectable methane leak occurs in a facility, the system can quickly identify, quantify and track the gas plume and send live updates of the gas leak video to operators who can respond to it. With mounting pressure from the G7 summit and COP 26, oil and gas companies are under increased scrutiny to reduce their environmental impact. Investing in new tools can help companies more efficiently identify leaks so they can respond before the leaks grow into bigger emissions and employ an effective solution in the fight against climate change.

Robert Kester is president and general manager of Honeywell Rebellion