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Monitoring Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Space

Planet Earth, North America

Oil sands mining companies, like our parent company Suncor, annually report the CO2 and methane emissions from their tailings ponds. The current method uses a contraption called a "flux hood" which is floated onto the tailings pond to capture emissions. Operators measure the emissions in that chamber and then estimate the total number of emissions.

This method has a number of issues, including a significant degree of uncertainty in measurement, slow lag time between reporting and subsequent improvements, and even worker safety issues since measurements are conducted directly on the tailings ponds.

However, there may be a better way - one that improves the accuracy of the measurements, reduces reporting lag time, increases worker safety and potentially improves emissions reduction initiatives. A joint industry project with several COSIA (Canadian Oil Sands Innovation Alliance), including Suncor, is testing the measurement of greenhouse gas emissions from space using satellite technology.

A Quebec-based company, GHGSat, is working Suncor and our COSIA partners to measure emissions using a satellite named CLAIRE. CLAIRE is carrying a spectrometer which measures the concentration of gases like CO2 and methane. This video (EN only) explains how CLAIRE works.

GHGSat: Claire 640x480 from Stephane Germain on Vimeo.

CLAIRE launched on June 22 of this year and will be in orbit for at least a year. It will pass over Alberta's oil sands mining operations approximately every two weeks; when conditions are clear enough (estimated about 50% of the time), CLAIRE conducts the measurements and transmits the data back to earth for analysis and distribution to oil sands operators.

What do you think? Does this kind of GHG monitoring make sense? Let us know in the comments!

- Rose R.

 

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