For years, space agencies around the world have used satellites to track greenhouse gas emissions from individual countries, but now a Canadian startup is able to focus more precisely on facilities such as power plants, refineries and landfills.
The oilsands industry in northern Alberta is already using the technology as the sector tries to gather better information about emissions.
Montreal-based GHGSat will launch its second satellite into space this summer to improve the data collects and give companies an even better picture of the emissions from their facilities.
Creating a “firehouse of data” is what satellites do best, according to GHGSat executive director Stephane Germain, “but frankly, what our customers really want to know is – where are my leaks?”
Germain made the comment while on stage last week in Houston as he was invited to give a few presentations about the technology at CERAWeek, one of the world’s largest energy conferences that attracts world leaders and top industry executives.
“We generate a new type of data that has never existed before which is to actually measure emissions at the facility level,” he said.
The satellites are about the size of a microwave oven and each cost a figure in the seven-digits. They can measure carbon dioxide and methane emissions, in addition to air quality. Methane is focal point for the oil and gas industry since it is more potent than other emissions and more cost-effective to capture.
The traditional method of measuring emissions in the oilsands has been described as having a degree of uncertainty of 50 per cent or more. Companies have used what’s called a “flux chamber,” a large hood that is either put inside of an oilsands mine or floated in the air above a tailings pond. The measurements are used to estimate the total emissions.
“They’re limited to when you collect them, which can be influenced by the weather sometimes or the temperature,” said Kevin Birn, an oilsands anaylst with IHS by Markit. “It’s a lot more precarious, which has been an issue for natural gas as well.”
Using satellite technology provides much more accurate data, he said.
“Any efforts to improve transparency gives us some more information to make better choices about how to build the resources we need for the future,” said Birn.
The flux chambers are only used to gather data once a year from a facility, while GHGSat collects data monthly.
“We think it can be a lot more precise,” said Germain, in an interview while in Houston.
GHGSat launched with funding assistance from the Canadian Space Agency and now has 23 employees. GHGSat has raised over $20 million from sources such as OGCI Climate Investments, Schlumberger, Space Angels, and the Business Development Bank of Canada. The company has also received financing from the governments of Canada and Alberta.
Suncor was one of the first oilsands companies to work with GHGSat, which now has several oilsands clients, according to the company.
Admittedly, Germain said more fine tuning need to be done. A third satellite is already under development as technology continues to improve.
The company can track emissions for many industries such as power generation, agriculture, mining, and landfills, among others.
“There’s a trend globally to wanting to understand greenhouse gas emissions.”
Industrial operations are often cited as major contributors to climate change.
“We’re trying to bring data to that discussion,” said Germain. “Use top-down measurements, actual measurements of sites to really understand what the real data is from each of these sites and bring those to the debate.”
Under Alberta’s carbon tax policy, oilsands companies with the lowest emissions actually earn money from the program, while the least efficient facilities could pay several dollars per barrel of oil that are produced.
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Sherwood Park is a large hamlet in Alberta, Canada within Strathcona County that is recognized as an urban service area. It is located adjacent to the City of Edmonton’s eastern boundary, generally south of Highway 16 (Yellowhead Trail), west of Highway 21 and north of Highway 630 (Wye Road). Other portions of Sherwood Park extend beyond Yellowhead Trail and Wye Road, while Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) separates Refinery Row to the west from the balance of the hamlet to the east.
Sherwood Park was established in 1955 on farmland of the Smeltzer family, east of Edmonton. With a population of 70,618 in 2016, Sherwood Park has enough people to be Alberta’s seventh largest city, but technically retains the status of a hamlet. The Government of Alberta recognizes the Sherwood Park Urban Service Area as equivalent to a city.
Sherwood Park, originally named Campbelltown, was founded by John Hook Campbell and John Mitchell in 1953 when the Municipal District of Strathcona No. 83 approved their proposed development of a bedroom community east of Edmonton. The first homes within the community were marketed to the public in 1955. Canada Post intervened on the name of Campbelltown due to the existence of several other communities in Canada within the same name, so the community’s name was changed to Sherwood Park in 1956.
The Sherwood Park Urban Service Area is located in the Edmonton Capital Region along the western edge of central Strathcona County adjacent to the City of Edmonton. The majority of the community is bound by Highway 16 (Yellowhead Highway) to the north, Highway 21 to the east, Highway 630 (Wye Road) to the south, and Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) to the west. The Refinery Row portion of Sherwood Park is located across Anthony Henday Drive to the west, between Sherwood Park Freeway and Highway 16. Numerous developments fronting the south side of Wye Road, including Wye Gardens, Wye Crossing, Salisbury Village and the Estates of Sherwood Park, are also within the community. Lands north of Highway 16 and south of Township Road 534/Oldman Creek between Range Road 232 (Sherwood Drive) to the west and Highway 21 to the east are also within the Sherwood Park urban service area.