Tech giant Google is collaborating with the Environmental Defence Fund (EDF) to support a satellite project aimed at monitoring methane levels worldwide. The project, set to launch in March, will utilise satellite technology to collect data on methane emissions, particularly focusing on oil and gas infrastructure.

The satellite, orbiting 300 miles above the Earth, will make 15 orbits per day, providing comprehensive coverage of methane emissions across the globe. Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is a significant contributor to global warming due to its ability to trap heat in the atmosphere.

While methane emissions are produced by various sources such as farming and waste disposal, the Google-EDF project will concentrate on detecting emissions from oil and gas plants. These facilities often release methane through burning or venting during extraction processes.

Data collected by the satellite will be processed using Google’s artificial intelligence tools to generate a methane map, which aims to identify methane leaks in oil and gas infrastructure worldwide. However, Google clarified that it would not directly notify companies responsible for significant leaks. Instead, governments and regulators will have access to the information to enforce necessary changes.

The initiative comes at a time when there is no international standard for controlling methane emissions. The European Union has proposed measures to reduce methane emissions, including regulations requiring oil and gas operators to repair leaks.

Google’s methane map will be published on its Earth Engine platform, providing valuable insights into methane emissions. Although the data will not be in real-time, updates will be sent back from the satellite every few weeks.

This project builds upon similar efforts, such as the European Space Agency’s Tropomi satellite instrument, which monitors trace gases in the atmosphere, including methane. Carbon Mapper, using Tropomi data, has previously identified significant methane plumes in various regions, highlighting the global nature of the issue.

Despite previous tracking efforts, methane levels remain alarmingly high, with human activity being a major contributor. Livestock, particularly cows, are significant sources of methane due to their digestive processes. Detecting methane emissions from agriculture remains challenging but is crucial in addressing the overall emissions.

The collaboration between Google and the Environmental Defence Fund underscores the importance of leveraging technology to combat climate change. By monitoring methane emissions on a global scale, the project aims to raise awareness and facilitate actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the impacts of climate change.