Engineering Innovation Podcast and Radio Series

Spotting Methane Leaks

PostedNovember 14, 2019

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Lede: We mostly talk about carbon dioxide as the culprit of climate change. But methane is actually about a hundred times more powerful as a greenhouse gas.

Randy Atkins: Thankfully, only about one-percent as much methane is emitted by man as carbon dioxide. But Robert Kleinberg, of Columbia and Boston Universities, says, at least in the short term, methane has an outsized role in warming our planet.

Robert Kleinberg: If you want to do something rapid about climate change, change the temperature trajectory fairly rapidly, methane is the best way to do it.

Randy Atkins: Methane comes from natural sources like swamps, but Kleinberg says about two-thirds is manmade…and a big percentage of that comes from leaks in oil and gas infrastructure. Since methane is odorless and colorless, leaks can be hard to detect… even huge ones. So…

Robert Kleinberg: …something that’s really very new, just in the last few years, people have put methane sensors on airborne platforms – aircraft, drones, even satellites now.

Randy Atkins: Kleinberg say the sensors can spot optical properties of methane to see plumes, even from space, so that the biggest leaks can be more quickly found and patched. With the National Academy of Engineering, Randy Atkins, WTOP News.