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|globalnews.ca 18 Oct 2016 at 17:31|
A satellite sent into space is measuring emissions from Alberta’s oilsands in a pilot project that industry officials believe will show aerospace measurements can be cheaper and safer than testing from the ground.
Imperial Oil Ltd. is working with other major oilsands players on the project, which aims to identify more accurate measurements of so-called fugitive emissions, uncontrolled leaks or releases of gases into the atmosphere.
By having a more accurate method of measurement, oilsands producers say they could test technologies to reduce these emissions and confirm whether they are effective.
“The philosophy is, if you measure things better, you can manage things better,” said Dan Wicklum, chief executive of Canada’s Oilsands Innovation Alliance, a group of companies that share technologies to reduce environmental effects.
COSIA is an alliance of producer companies, from Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. to Devon Energy Corp., which are historical competitors but collaborate on environmental projects because they believe they can accelerate the development of new technologies.
In its fourth annual progress report, the group said its members had completed 347 projects worth $818 million since 2012, with another 276 projects underway.
Among the ongoing projects is the satellite program to measure emissions that escape from tailings ponds and mines.
Oil and gas companies are required by law to measure these methane and carbon dioxide emissions, which “make up a significant part of a mine’s total emissions,” according to COSIA.
Under the current method, companies extend a large hood over of the surface of the tailings pond or set it on the mine to capture and measure emissions. They use this data to estimate the pond’s or mine’s total emissions.
According to industry, the method is expensive, takes imperfect measurements and poses safety risks to workers who must take the readings on tailings ponds or near mine openings.
Led by Imperial Oil, the satellite project uses technology from Quebec-based GHGSat to measure emissions from two tailings ponds and one mine. The satellite, named Claire, launched in June and will remain in orbit for at least a year, travelling above Alberta’s oilsands once every couple of weeks.
The satellite will send measurements to Earth, where industry hopes to take readings on the ground at the same time to compare results.
COSIA officials believe satellite technology could become the industry standard for measuring these emissions, should the pilot project — also supported by Canadian Natural Resources, Shell Canada Ltd. and Suncor Energy Inc. — be successful.
The pilot project has received funding from the Boeing Co., the Canadian Space Agency, LOOKNorth, a research and development group funded in part by government, and Sustainable Development Technology Canada, a publicly funded agency focused on clean tech.