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Insider Q&A: Satellite company fights climate change
Finding and fixing methane leaks has been identified by scientists as one of the most effective ways to turn the tide of global warming. To help uncover those leaks, Canadian company GHGSat has launched six satellites to search for methane plumes.
Those satellites have made troubling discoveries, including record-high methane emissions from the oil and gas industry and growing emissions from coal mines around the world. To aid in the fight against climate change, GHGSat plans to launch six more methane-hunting satellites by year's end.
And soon it will launch a satellite targeting another threat—carbon dioxide. Stephane Germain, president of GHGSat, spoke with The Associated Press about why he believes that armed with information about where the leaks are coming from, companies and nations can take steps to slow global warming. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What are the main challenges that that the world faces in reducing emissions?
A: I like to joke that the rocket science and the artificial intelligence is the easy part. The hard part is the human. It's about the culture change and the action that we need to bring to bear in every different jurisdiction, in every different environment. The way to bring about action in India might be very different than a way to bring about action in the United States. And that may be very different than how to do it in Latin America. So we need to, first and foremost, make the measurements available so that people are aware of what's really going on in their jurisdictions and in their own operations. But then we need to progressively accelerate our efforts at driving to action with that data. It's one project at a time, one initiative at a time. Our goal is to make the data available to everybody so that ultimately more and more of those actions can be taken and more and more mitigations happen.
Q: U.S. oil and gas emissions are at record high levels. What can be done?
Methane emissions absolutely are higher than they have been in the last couple of years. And that's not just in the U.S., that's worldwide. We see it pretty much in every sector. We see it in oil and gas, coal mining and landfills. In oil and gas in particular, I'm very pleased to see that there's increased efforts on all fronts for reducing emissions. We haven't seen the results we want to get, that's for sure.
There are operator initiatives, there's a U.N. initiative. The Biden administration has proposed new rules that will tighten emissions standards and also, we think, very importantly, make it easier for new technologies to be used to be able to monitor and mitigate those emissions. We need to keep at it. There's just a lot more work to be done, as is obvious from the trends.
Q: What percentage of methane leaks that your company found have been fixed?
A: Right now it's pretty small. It's currently in the single percentage range, and that's clearly something we need to improve on. Now just to put that in context, the single percentage is worldwide, so that includes everything from oil and gas operators in the U.S. through coal mining in China. We have a huge opportunity to raise awareness with all of these operators and all these sources so that they know what their real emissions are and where some of these sources are. In many cases the technologies exist to repair or mitigate emissions from those sources so they're really easy to address quickly.
Q: Can you give an example of your company finding a leak and the operator fixing it?
A: This was in the Middle East where they were interested in monitoring a wide region to find leaks that they weren't aware of and then look for opportunities to mitigate them. We did that for about a year and found several emissions. Some of them were fixed by the operators immediately.
With another we brought a consultant in to provide training and best practices to that operator so they realized how they could reduce their emissions. And that wound up being one of the greatest emissions reductions we've had to date.
Q: Why do you name the satellites after children?
A: We name the satellites after our kids because it reminds us of why we do what we do everyday. Ultimately, we're going to be leaving our planet to future generations, and that includes our very own kids as a team at GHGSat. And it's really heartwarming for us to know that what we do every day is going to be helpful, not just to the current world, but to the future world.
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